Moving to Cayman: What to Pack vs. Leave Behind

Moving to Cayman: What to Pack vs. Leave Behind

So you’re really doing it. You’re really moving to Cayman. It may seem insane to you right now, or maybe you’re someone who does stuff like this all the time… Whatever the case, rest assured, many expats have come before you and many will follow in your steps. The question remains: how in God’s name are you going to pack your entire life into a couple of suitcases? Well, as someone who has been in your very shoes, I can deliver a few pointers. But inevitably, you’re going to pack incorrectly anyway. Let that be a relief. It’s just part of the experience.

When I moved to Cayman, I packed one large suitcase, a carry-on bag, and a backpack. I know other people who shipped boxes of stuff before or after moving, but don’t ask me how to do that. Honestly, I think it’s cheating. Moving to an island means adopting a bit of minimalism. Also, as much as people complain about Cayman stores and prices, there are still plenty of places to shop. However, it can take a bit of time to understand the lay of the land — where to buy what. That being said, I’ve crafted a list below of island essentials that will make your first few months more convenient and comfortable.

Checklist for Moving to Cayman

  • Clothes
  • Toiletries / Cosmetics
  • Electronics
  • Medicines
  • Important Documents / Money

Clothes

  • Swimsuits (more than one) – You will be spending a lot of time in a swimsuit. I would bring at least three different options to start because swimsuits are pretty expensive on island
  • Flip-flops / Sandals – Leave your heels at home. Okay, bring one pair. Cayman is a gloriously easy-going place where sandals are widely accepted pretty much anywhere you go
  • Running/walking shoes
  • Casual clothes in general – before moving, try to get a sense of your employer’s dress code. In my experience, workplace attire is much more lax in Cayman. There are certain occasions in which you could dress up. For example, brunch or work events. But, for the most part, dress is casual island-wide. Plan for comfort because it’s hot and you will sweat. Loose fitting, light clothing is key.
  • Sundresses for brunch!
  • T-shirts and tank tops
  • Lightweight long sleeves – come in handy while out in the sun and on the beach
  • Shorts and breathable pants – my denim came along for the ride! Because dress is casual, I often wear jeans to work
  • Light rain jacket – Cayman has unpredictable pockets of downpour and you will get wet!
  • Workout clothes – at most workout classes, girls are wearing sports bras and yoga pants/and or bike shorts
  • Underwear and socks
  • Hats – the wider the brim, the better!
  • Sunglasses
  • Spare glasses
  • Fanny pack 🙂 – arguably not an essential when moving to Cayman, however, it proves incredibly convenient on beach walks!

Recommended Read: What to Wear in the Cayman Islands

Toiletries / Cosmetics

  • Favorite sunscreen (Cayman has the basics but not a ton of variety) The dermatologist-grade face sunscreen is available but can be expensive. I use Heliocore – a bottle that costed me $35 in Spain was $75 in Cayman.
  • Travel-size toiletries – so you won’t be forced to go to the supermarket straight away (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, floss)
  • Face wash / face creams – one or two of your go-to skincare products
  • Contacts and contact solution
  • Nail kit
  • Lip balm
  • Makeup – Cayman has some decent makeup options whether it be drugstore essentials at the pharmacy or CEL Beauty or higher end products at MAC and the perfume stores in Georgetown. The prices aren’t too different from what I buy in the US. It is still a good idea though, to stock up on your go-to makeup items before the trip in case you can’t find them right away
  • Menstrual cup

Electronics

  • Phone + Charger (if your phone is unlocked, you can get a Cayman SIM card from Digicel or Flow)
  • Extra charger if you have one! – just in case you — I don’t know — foster a dog and it chews through your charger…
  • Laptop + Charger
  • GoPro + Accessories – if you plan to do a lot of snorkeling / diving, you might like to record your adventures!
  • Headphones / Ear buds
  • Sport watch
  • Roku – small and can be plugged into your TV for easy access to streaming apps

Medicines

Once you arrive on island, you can make your rounds to the supermarket and pharmacy, but it’s not a bad idea to have a few essentials on hand for your travels

  • Prescriptions – at least 4 weeks worth until you can get set up with a doctor on island
  • Ibuprofen
  • Dramamine
  • Probiotics
  • Magnesium (to help with sleep)

Important Documents

When moving to Cayman, or anywhere abroad, it is important to have on hand the official copies of key documents either to prove your identity or recover lost forms of ID like a driver’s license or passport. Passports and birth certificates are the only true validity of your identity. Keep them safe overseas! Also, if you have already been sent your work permit, you should have it on your mobile device or print it out prior to traveling along with your COVID vaccine card

  • Birth Certificate
  • Passport
  • Work permit
  • COVID vaccine/booster card (physical copy and QR code if you have it)
  • Visa information (if applicable)
  • Doctor certified prescriptions
  • Marriage certificate
  • Driver’s license

Money

Once on island, your employer will issue you an employment letter so you can open a personal bank account. In the meantime, ensure you can use your credit and debit cards internationally. Contact your home bank ahead of time and let them know where you will be. US currency is also accepted everywhere if you happen to be bringing US dollars. ATMs are available at most bank branches and some supermarkets.

What NOT to Pack

  • Overly formal clothes – maybe just one or two outfits in case you attend a work event or gala
  • Warm clothes – one sweatshirt and one pair of sweatpants for home will be just fine! Only bring warm clothes if you plan to immediately travel to places like New York or Colorado while living in Cayman
  • Don’t take all of your clothes or shoes! – Key word: minimalism
  • Don’t pack a year supply of tampons and pads – you can find these at any pharmacy or supermarket, plus menstrual cups really are the way to go
  • Limit large-size toiletries – stick to travel size except for those items that may be hard to find/expensive like my Heliocare sunscreen, for example
  • Towels – wherever your employer is lodging you, towels will be available. In between your relocation digs and your permanent residence, you will be able to buy towels at Kirk Home, AL Thompson, or Cost U Less. Also, the expats are rather infamous for stealing the towels from Sunshine Suites so that’s always an option (lol)
  • Beach bag – this is another item that could take up a lot space…my entire first year on island I used a reusable grocery bag from Kirk as my beach bag and it served me well
  • Adult toys – I’m serious…The importation, possession and distribution of sex toys are considered offences under Cayman’s penal code. NOT a great way to start your new island life!!

Have more questions about moving to Cayman? Consult Cayman Resident for a detailed guide for living and working in the Cayman Islands. Best of luck on your new adventure!

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The Pros & Cons of Expat Island Life

The Pros & Cons of Expat Island Life

If you had told me a couple years ago I would be writing a blog post about expat island life, I’d think you were crazy. That maybe you’d been hit on the head with a coconut. “Me? Living in the Caribbean? Get out of here!”

But then again…I do love the beach…. And year-round summer does sound pretty nice…

Cut to the chase, here I am living my best life on a rock in the middle of the ocean. Although, it’s not all rum punches and rainbows. After a year of uninterrupted island life, I’m here to share with you the ups and downs one can expect to encounter when uprooting their life to the Caribbean. 

The pros and cons I have generated for this blog post are honest and come from my completely unique perspective. Of course there will always be people who live a distinct experience from my own. My aim in writing this is to share a bit about my island lifestyle, showing two sides of the same coin in a light-hearted way. I hope it makes you smile and remember to love where you live, whatever “home” currently looks like for you! Without further ado, here are The Pros and Cons of Expat Island Life according to Island Diaries by Kate!

Pro: Rock a tropical wardrobe 24/7

Where I’m from we keep totes of winter, spring, summer, and fall clothes stored away under the stairs in the basement. Every year the short-shorts and tank tops anxiously await their return to the limelight for the fleeting months of summer. Just imagine the weight that would be lifted off your shoulders if you only had to plan for one season…summer! This is exactly what it’s like to live in the Caribbean, where the forecast is always sunny and 86 and flip-flops are widely accepted. I like to refer to this wardrobe as “tropical minimalism.”

expat island life

RECOMMENDED READ: What to Wear in the Cayman Islands

Con: The “Groundhog’s Day” effect

Sure, sunny and 86 sounds dreamy but when this is the weather EVERY day, it starts to get old. It’s kind of like “Wow, gorgeous again? How original!” I often find myself fantasizing about brisk fall mornings that call for a sweatshirt and a warm cup of coffee. Cayman does have a rainy season which makes the weather slightly more interesting and unpredictable, but it doesn’t quite compare to experiencing all four seasons and the activities that come along with them. 

Pro: Amazing friends from all over the world

This tax haven, with its white sand beaches and turquoise waters, attracts young professionals from all around the globe. My first few months in Cayman felt like studying abroad all over again. Within a matter of weeks I had friends from England, South Africa, Colombia, Ireland, France, and the list goes on and on! The diverse social dynamic lends itself to an instant-friend phenomenon. One minute you’re chatting it up with a stranger at Starbucks and the next you’re invited to their boat party. The expat social networks in Cayman are very much intertwined meaning you undeniably have a mutual friend with every single person you meet. 

expats cayman islands

Con: Expat “bubbles”

There are so many opportunities to make friends with other expats but not nearly as many to make friends with locals. Undoubtedly this is because my apartment and almost all my favorite activities are in the Seven Mile Beach area which is heavily populated by expats. These enclaves contribute to a feeling of separateness from the local community. While it’s okay to be separate in some ways, I do feel I am missing out on many important cultural aspects by keeping within my “bubble.” 

Pro: No taxes

Self-explanatory. There is no question that this is a MAJOR pro of living in the Cayman Islands!!! (Thanks John Grisham for the inspo).

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Con: $10 peppers (the price of paradise)

We may live tax free but that does not save us from extortionate supermarket prices. There are many fruits and vegetables I’ve had to give up altogether while living in Cayman. For example, peppers. A single yellow or red pepper could cost you up to CI $8 which would be close to USD $10. Same with Romaine lettuce and almost any kind of berry. I’ve resorted to buying most of my fruits and vegetables frozen or in a can. Of course, we try to buy local produce when possible at the farmers market or at roadside stands, but sometimes you just want to indulge in a raspberry without breaking the bank! Is that too much to ask??

Pro: Short commutes

Of course, this depends where you live on the island. But, since I live in the Seven Mile Beach area, many of the restaurants, beaches, and supermarkets are either in walking distance or a few minutes drive away. Yet somehow, even with these short distances, I still seem to arrive everywhere late. I guess “island time” can affect even the most punctual of midwesterners. 

The furthest I have to drive is 15-20 minutes to get to the school where I work. When I tell Cayman residents this, they are taken aback by the “lengthy” commute. They clearly have never experienced 40 minutes of interstate blizzard conditions in the dead of a Minnesota winter…

expat island life

Con: No such thing as a “road trip”

Yes, I love being close to everything. It makes it super easy to organize plans on the fly. One thing I really miss though, is being able to take a road trip. I miss downloading podcasts and playlists and just hitting the open road. Even if the final destination was just to my hometown, it was the feeling of freedom that came with knowing a full tank of gas could take you anywhere. Here a full tank of gas gets you 45 minutes down the road to Rum Point where you can see… yup you guessed it, the ocean!

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Pro: Endless island activities

And I do mean endless. Diving, snorkeling, boating, beaching, brunching, ahem–drinking, you name it! Cayman’s social networks are well-connected and VERY active. Because most expats do not have family here, our social calendar is typically wide open. (Minus the auditors who get let out of the office only for their required 4 hours of sleep) This leads to busy weeks and jam-packed weekends. Of course I enjoy the occasional chill weekend, but for the most part, I love having all of these social options. It helps to create a sense of community while we are all so far away from our families. 

scuba diving grand cayman

Con: Missing out back home

The Instagram stories tell one story, but of course, we all made sacrifices to live the picturesque island life. I think all island expats experience homesickness to varying extents, especially this past year as very few of us were able to leave the island. I went through a period where seeing planes take off from the airport made me want to cry. (Very dramatic, I know). It’s hard to miss out on celebrations and holidays and watch your baby nephew grow up through technology. (But thank god for technology). For sure this is one of the biggest cons to living abroad, further amplified by COVID restrictions this year. 

Pro:  Finally becoming a “regular

As silly as it sounds, I have always dreamed of becoming a regular at a café or restaurant. Of course you can become a regular no matter where you live, but the island’s small size and interconnectedness encourages the formation of rituals and routines. After living for a year on the same tiny island, Bryan and I can proudly say we are regulars at Palm Heights where we spend a good chunk of our paychecks on Paradise Pizzas and cocktails from Tillie’s. (Worth every penny!)

tillies, grand cayman

Con: Everyone knows everyone

The small town effect is inescapable. As mentioned above, this can be a good thing…but it can also be an annoying thing. Trips to the grocery store may take double the time because you could run into 10 people you know. One time I actually wore a baseball cap (very low over my eyes) and headphones so that I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. It’s wonderful to feel connected but sometimes you just want anonymity when you’re contemplating your apple options. 

Pro: Palm trees and white sand beaches…

Sorry for stating the obvious, but this is a pro that cannot be ignored. Some days I wake up and think, damn, I live in the Caribbean. I feel extremely spoiled to be able to go on beach walks and sea swims whenever my heart desires. I will never get tired of watching the sunset from Seven Mile Beach. And even after a year of island life, the palm trees have yet to lose their magic for me!

cayman islands

Con: We’re literally in the middle of the ocean

When you move to a tropical island, you must learn to roll with a certain level of inconvenience. While Grand Cayman is blessed with numerous resources, it is certainly not overflowing with choice. The only “clothing” store I feel comfortable spending money at is the Humane Society Thrift Shop, everything else I’ve found is overpriced and/or not my taste. You may think, but Kate, why don’t you just ship things to the island? Well, many people do. But weeks of waiting and extra customs fees are just not worth it to me. Bryan was without a car for almost 2 months as he awaited parts from overseas. I dream of the day I can walk into a Target again or make a next-day Amazon order! Long story short, if you are someone who prioritizes convenience, don’t move to a Caribbean island. 

cayman islands, expat life

Pro: Personal growth and expansion

Moving abroad is an experience which will shift your mindset and pull you out of your comfort zone. Cayman, with its diverse population and unique geographical location, provides an especially expansive environment for personal development. Living the expat island life has taught me to value many different perspectives from locals and expats alike. Also, being immersed within inspiring tropical nature and a slower-pace of living has given me so much peace of mind and space for creativity. This year has inspired me to pursue my passion for writing in the form of this blog and has allowed me to connect with many ambitious and open-minded individuals. I am so grateful to the friends I’ve made this year as they have shown me many different possibilities for my own career and lifestyle. 

Conclusion

 So while living the expat island life is beautiful in many ways, it does not come without its share of challenges and inconveniences. Just remember that someone’s Instagram feed is a highlight reel, never the full story. No matter where you live in the world, you will find things you love and things you may like to trade. The key is to focus more on what lights you up rather than complaining about things that are out of your control. I hope you enjoyed this read and that is broadened your perspective on island expat life! 


MEET KATE

 Hi, I’m Kate! I’m a Wisconsin native who traded her snow boots for flip-flops in May of 2020 when I packed my whole life into two suitcases and moved to the Cayman Islands with my partner, Bryan.  I created Island Diaries as a way to document my island adventures and share about the Cayman lifestyle. A Midwest girl at heart, I bring a fresh perspective to Caribbean life, serving as a guide for locals and tourists alike on all things Cayman Islands. Whether you are local to Cayman, planning to visit, or just curious about island life, I invite you to explore Island Diaries and let this site guide you on your next island adventure!


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Return of the Mice + COVID Test

Return of the Mice + COVID Test

Hi there. Thought I wouldn’t be posting again until I was released from isolation BUT writing proves to be therapeutic for me and the last 48 hours have been quite traumatic for someone with a recently self-diagnosed rodent phobia. While I thought I was safe in my new room, I couldn’t hide for long. That’s right. The mice struck again. And this time…not just one. 

The clock struck 11 pm, seemingly the hour in which mice like to wake from their slumber and scavenge for vegan leftovers such as chickpeas and sweet potato. I had just brushed my teeth and was heading for the bedroom. I had tried so hard for the past few days to correct my sleep schedule and I had my sights set on a solid 8 hours of sleep. The mice had a different plan. I turned the corner to the living room and SCREAMED. NO! NOOOOOO. A mouse scurried in front of me, his little tail flapping in the wind. F*CK!! I sprinted across the living room to the bed room, slammed the door shut, and stuffed towels underneath the door. Safe. I was safe…or so I thought. I called Bryan practically in tears and directed my obscenities and “why me’s” at the phone. I began to calm myself and sat down on the bed, ready to call the front desk yet again. And then…ANOTHER ONE!?! I jumped up on the bed, any feeling of tiredness had gone out the window. I wished the mice would do the same. 

Prior to seeing the second mouse, I had (for a fleeting moment) considered riding it out in the bedroom until morning. I thought about what my mom and I had talked about. That part in the Green Mile when he befriends a mouse and names him Mr. Jingles. Could I adopt the same mentality? There were some similarities in our story except of course the part about being on death row for a crime I didn’t commit. No… sorry Mr. Jingles. We couldn’t be friends, you had been too intrusive. 

So, I repeated the same routine as a week ago. I sprinted back and forth across the room, packing up, throwing things in garbage bags. Security came up to deliver yet another key to a new room. Upon arriving at the new room, I did not feel any sense of relief. It was on the same floor, directly across the hall from my first room where there was a mouse. This is so ridiculous, I thought. After a bit of complaining, the next morning the facilities manager proposed that I be transferred to a new hotel. YES!!! Please!! Nope, just kidding…that was not a good idea after all. But, they could move me to a higher floor. Sure…I mean I was already packed. My entire life was still on the luggage cart inside my room. So, later that day I moved to the third floor where I am apparently the only person on the floor. In room #4 I shoved towels into all the crevices where a rodent could possibly enter. I sprayed the room with clorox (kills viruses, deters rodents?) I forced myself to eat all the food they delivered (they provide huge portions) so that I did not have any residual food smells in my room. I couldn’t understand how this seemed to only be happening to me! I guess I am just the fan favorite.

Being that I hadn’t slept well in days, I was actually tired enough that I felt I would fall asleep without problem. If you have ever stayed in a hotel, you know the frustration of getting into bed when they tight-tuck all the sheets and comforter under the mattress. Well, when you are being actively pursued by a gang of vegan mice, you find comfort in being securely tucked in. So I slept for almost 12 hours and awoke with a clear mind and less anxiety. I concluded that if I went to bed before 11 and didn’t get up for anything, there is no way I would see a mouse. So that is my strategy for my last night of quarantine!

It is now 10:40 am, I am awaiting the call to go take my COVID test. I put on mascara and everything. I simply could not be more excited to have a swab stuck up my nose!

[Update] 11:30 am, May 30th

COVID test has been taken! Funny that we had to wait 2 weeks for a 2 second test. For those who haven’t had the test, they basically stick an extra long q-tip up your nose, but like, really far up there. I wouldn’t say it hurt but it was definitely a weird feeling that I continued to feel even after they removed the swab. The staff was very kind and tried to calm my nerves. If they only knew what I had been through the past two weeks. Hehe. 

I returned to my room, celebrated the completed test, now awaiting the results. The staff here is confident our results will be back by tomorrow morning and we will be able to leave sometime later in the day. (I am knocking on wood as I type this.) 

This time, I really hope you do not hear from me again. PLEASE let the next 24 hours be uneventful and blissfully boring. See you on the other side! 

10 Things I Learned in Cayman Quarantine

10 Things I Learned in Cayman Quarantine
  1. I guess I don’t actually need “Happy Hour” every day. At the government isolation center (AKA Comfort Suites), alcohol and other drugs are strictly prohibited. They neither serve alcohol nor do they allow outsiders to deliver any. That being said, it will be 15 days or so for me without drinking. I mean, don’t get the wrong idea. I am hardly an alcoholic. However, like many throughout this pandemic, I have enjoyed the more than occasional at-home happy hour with my parents. Indulging in a Bloody Mary or whatever spiked seltzer is trending at the time. (My fav is still Press even though it is so last summer). Arriving to quarantine knowing these happy hours were going to be on hold from 2+ weeks was a bummer. Nothing like arriving in paradise and being denied both the beach and the piña colada that comes with it. I mean THE TORTURE… Anyyyyyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah. I don’t “need” happy hour. Or do I? Jury’s still out. 
  1. Sometimes you just have to turn off the news and binge 48 hours of Sex and the City. Nothing like hours of dysfunctional relationships to make a day fly by. Again, don’t get me wrong. Of course the news is important. Especially now with constant virus-related updates. But sometimes, the trials and tribulations of Carrie and Big’s on-again, off-again romance take precedence. Hopefully I didn’t lose any readership with this one. (**This news hiatus happened over Memorial Day Weekend. A lot has happened even since then that does require our attention)

3. Maybe a rodent in your house is a blessing in disguise? All I know is that after the mouse encounter, life in isolation improved markedly. 1. I got a bigger room 2. I got a hot shower 3. I got a new view which allowed Bryan and I to reunite via the window! Guys, I am the real life Rapunzle. Except my hair isn’t long enough to let down. Maybe next time?

  1. Education and training is required in the culinary arts of vegan desserts. Let me start by saying that I am very satisfied with the food here and overjoyed that vegan options even exist. Wherever this food is coming from, I give them 5 stars. HOWEVER. The vegan “desserts” they have given me, if you can call them desserts, have been utterly confusing. One night they gave me a cup of rice pudding with corn and an unidentifiable yellowish syrup. Another night they gave me this lump of solid green gelatin? Which is not vegan at all actually. Gelatin is made from prolonged boiling of skin, cartilage, and bones from animals. So that is VERY confusing. Another night they gave me a cooked plantain with frosting. (That one I ate). In conclusion, just give me the damn chocolate chip cookie.
Vegan Banana Pancakes (my favorite breakfast so far)
  1. Literally any space can be used for movement. For example, the recreational space they provided for us (a stretch of a parking lot and a little bit of grass), is not the ideal space to run long distances. ALAS, I have run the mile multiple times in that area during the 20 minutes they allot us. Granted, they are the slowest miles I have ever run but hey, it’s still an accomplishment! Have to make due with the space you have and move your body in any way that you can! Also, thank god for YouTube and its endless library of free workout videos. 
  1. Jamaican juice is delicious and addicting. With most of our meals they give us a bottle of water. However, every once in a while they give us a juice box instead. Which is really funny to me. I am one of those annoying people who reads the label and nutritional contents of food and beverages and I was not surprised to find this little box of juice contains 24 grams of added sugar…about the same as a can of soda. BUT, it is from Jamaica. Which, I don’t know, somehow makes it a superior juice box. So… after hoarding them for a few days, I finally broke down and had one. And guys. This juicebox was EVERYTHING. I have never tasted anything so miraculous. I guess these make up for my rice & corn pudding desserts.
  1. In the absence of squirrels, chickens are just as fun to watch from your window. That is all. I just love them.
  1. I guess I like puzzles. I guess I do! My friend Emily, basically my only friend on the island besides Bryan, was kind enough to deliver a few of her puzzles to me at the hotel. I did them in record time and loved every minute of it. What a relaxing, mindless activity. Almost as mindless as Sex and the City. 
  1. Good ideas can come to you when you take time to unplug. This has been such a revelation for me. Never has writing come so easy to me as during this quarantine. I hope that even when I leave here I can maintain this clearheadedness. It has helped me hugely in the creativity department. Not just with the blog but also in working on my Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) store. In a society that equates productivity with success, I have learned that it’s actually quiet time and headspace that give way to really great ideas and energy! And allow you to be even more productive when the time is right! (The time isn’t always right. Sometimes what you need is to watch chickens from the window while draining a Jamaican juicebox).
  1. We depend on each other. Take time to appreciate others! Not to be overly didactic…I am going to make this short and sweet. But seriously, as independent and strong as you may be, you couldn’t survive for very long without the support of others. I’m so grateful for all the people who made sure I got here safely, for the volunteers who deliver my food and water everyday, and for the friends and family who check in with me to see how I am doing. We all make up a small part of the whole! One day you are the one helping and the next you are the one who needs help. We’ve got this!

So, as you can see I have learned a lot during my time here in government isolation! While my time here is not quite over, this is the last time I will blog from quarantine. I will be taking the COVID test on Saturday (May 30) with hopes of getting the results back in 24 hours and leaving on Sunday. Next time you hear from me I will be free and at home with Bryan! As always, thanks for reading! Until next time 🙂

Vegans, chickens, and mice OH MY!

Vegans, chickens, and mice OH MY!

It was day 5. I was really starting to settle into my new “home.” With some of my clothing unpacked in drawers, toiletries neatly organized in the bathroom, and food stocked in the cabinets and fridge, I was ready for the long haul. I felt so comfortable in the space that I went as far as to lay on the floor not once, but MULTIPLE times for my ab workouts and yoga sessions. Yep, everything was smooth sailing. Until I realized…I wasn’t the only one who was feeling at home in the room. 

Around 11 pm on night 5 I was sitting on my bed with my computer when I saw a little black something crawling on the floor by the couch. Oh that’s nothing, probably a shadow. Double take. Nope, not a shadow. Definitely…a MOUSE. NO NO NO. MOUSE WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? 

Now…I like to think I am something of a nature person. You know, at one with the animals and all… but THIS? I am not proud when I tell you that I went into full freak out mode. My skin was crawling and my breathing was out of control. Apparently the last few months of my meditation app did nothing to help me in this mouse crisis situation. So naturally I called Bryan to video chat all the while on my safe bed island. He coached me through it and we devised a game plan but the problem is that everything I needed to take the first steps was located in the same area as the mouse house (aka the couch). I mustered up the courage, sprinted to my shoes, sprinted back to the bed and put them on. I felt better with shoes on. The next step was to get to the phone and call the “emergency” number. As much as I hate myself for saying this, YES a mouse in my hotel room IS an emergency in my book.

The man on the phone proposed a solution: let the mouse have the room and I would move to a new one. I agreed. Sorry mousey, this room ain’t big enough for the both of us. The staff left a new room key outside my door and told me I should pack all my things. I tried to minimize the amount of time I had to spend in the room by taking a garbage bag and throwing all the unpacked items in. Sprinting across the room, standing on all available furniture (Except the sofa of course). I then started throwing all my luggage out in the hall, not being quiet at all. Apologies fellow quarantiners but we had a situation on our hands. In the process of doing all this and trying to keep my shit together I saw a large bug skitter across the table and let out an audible scream. Sorry, Comfort Suites but every time I see a living creature in your hotel, you lose a star.

Finally, I had gathered up all my belongings and put them outside the door. By the time I was done packing I had regained composure and some of my fear subsided and I actually contemplated staying and sharing the room with the mouse. HA, just kidding. But I did realize how irrational my fear was and laughed inwardly at the fact that mice are completely oblivious to how much (some) humans fear them. I am sure he had just gotten wind of the fact that I don’t eat meat and thought we could have a sympatico shared residence. 

So, at almost midnight I began to haul all my luggage down the hallway (same floor thankfully) to room 201. When I entered, I realized that the mouse had awarded me an upgrade. While it is probably not any bigger than my last room, it is two bedroom, two bathroom, with a hot shower (my last shower never got warm), and a much improved view! This view may even allow Bryan to come wave to me! (Stay tuned). As soon as I set my stuff down I called Bryan back and he made me check all the crevices in the room for more mice. My skin was still doing its creepy-crawly thing and my mind was on high alert. My search came up negative but what would I have done if I had found another? Move to another room? With more mice? And who knows how long that mouse and I were living in harmony before me even knowing it. Probably all 5 days.

Anyway, after my search I unpacked a bit and showered and then tried to sleep but I think there was some residual adrenaline in my system and I didn’t feel tired. FINALLY around 3 am, I kind of drifted off. But then. THEN. Chickens.

At 3 something in the morning one ill-mannered rooster posted up right outside my window and decided it was as good a time as ever to let out some cockle-doodle-doos. With gusto. And not just one. Not two. I kid you not, this dude was cockle-doodle-dooing for more than 10 minutes straight. At that point I just had to laugh. Do you think the animals are trying to communicate with me? Maybe they sense that I care for them on a personal level and just want to be friends? Whatever the case may be, they sure do make for a good blog. But here’s to hoping the next 10+ days of my quarantine are uneventful and rodent-free. I will continue to respect mice from a distance but I do not need to share a bed with them. Thanks for reading 🙂

PS. Our eyes rarely deceive us. If you think you saw a mouse, you probably saw a mouse. 

An Unexpected Turn of Events Pt. 2!

An Unexpected Turn of Events Pt. 2!

From Airside to Isolation 

Greetings from quarantine! This is not your everyday honor-system quarantine that you can do from the comfort of your own home. The fact that I can even say that so nonchalantly speaks to how much COVID19 has infiltrated our sense of normalcy. But no, I am not self-isolating with Bryan — I am in a Cayman government controlled isolation center. While my accommodations during this isolation are far from grim (I am at a hotel), the procedures surrounding it are in fact as intense and thorough as they sound! 

Let’s start from the very beginning — my arrival to the island. After deboarding the plane, we were greeted by fully gowned and masked staff who cheerfully welcomed us home. (Remember that all the passengers save me apparently were local Caymanians or permanent residents). I played my part and said “Thank you! It’s so good to be home!” 😉 Entering the airport, everyone was screened and had their temperatures taken. We were all issued room keys for our hotel accommodations and then escorted to the front of the airport where our luggage was loaded into a truck and we were loaded into a bus (all while maintaining our 6 feet of course). Surrounding the buses of recent arrivals were a scattering of police officers and their vehicles. When we finally did pull away from the airport to make our way to the hotel, we had a police escort leading in front and following behind. On our way, many people who were out walking stopped to watch us go by — some with dirty looks, others with friendly waves.

When we got to the hotel, we collected our luggage and waited in line to take the elevator to our designated floor. Only one could go on at a time and a staff member had to press the button for each person. I got on the elevator to the second floor – room 217. Upon entering I found a paper with important info along with a food menu for the entire week. I sat down with these pieces of paper that were about to dictate my life for the next 14+ days and began to mentally prepare.

A Day In The Life: 

Where am I? While the words “Government Quarantine” may bring to mind images of sterile and cold surroundings, my current accommodations are actually quite plush. I am at a nice hotel (albeit with no patio), with views of palm trees, flowers, and a parking lot. I have a kitchenette, a sofa, a desk, and two beds. I haven’t yet jumped back and forth on them like I did when I was 5 and my parents would take my brother and I to a hotel, but the quarantine is young. The hotel is made up of 5 floors and each floor is occupied by passengers from the MIA > GCM flight. If I had to estimate, I would say there are about 70-100 of us. I am quite bad at estimations. The hotel is barricaded by tall, solid fencing. This keeps us inside when we are able to have our “recreation” time and it keeps family and friends from walking up outside the windows. Way to ruin the fun, Cayman. 

What am I eating? Well, if you have been following me on Instagram, you know very well what I am eating because I take a picture of every single meal! Upon arrival, we received a menu with 2-3 options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Being that I am vegan, I had no idea what to expect and had imagined I would have to modify a bit and just be vegetarian for these weeks but to my pleasant surprise, they have a vegan option listed for EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Ladies and gentlemen, we are not in the Midwest anymore. Meals are delivered by the staff and volunteers. We all put little side tables out in the hallway and they set the meals on there and knock on the door. We are instructed not to open the door for a few minutes until the volunteers have left. As you can see below, the containers they serve the food in are adorable and the food is delicious. Even a carnivore could enjoy them! Breakfast is served between 8 and 8:30, lunch between 12:30 and 1, and dinner between 6:00 and 6:30. On the first night, they also brought us a “welcome home” bag full of snacks. I am trying to ration the snack bag but how could I not break into the Nutter Butter’s immediately? I mean come on, those things are amazing. My one complaint is that sometimes instead of a water with our meals they bring us Jamaican juice boxes that despite being tiny still manage to fit 24 grams of sugar within. I did break down and try one. It was really good, I won’t lie.

What in the world do you do all day? Earlier this spring amid COVID school closure I was teaching online with SHS but we already had our last day of school! That being said, I have no “official” work to do. Since I am going to be here for what feels like a long time, I tried to build some structure in my day by creating a daily schedule. One of the most important items on the schedule is RECREATIONAL TIME. Recreational time my friends refers to the whopping 20 minutes of outdoor time I am allotted each day (3:15-3:35) to leave my room and go outdoors. That means that at 3:14 I am at my hotel room door eagerly waiting for the minute hand to strike 15. I make my way to the stairwell, use the provided sanitizer, and hustle to the ground floor where I emerge free and floating into the Caribbean sunshine. I have watched other people use their recreational time from my window (I am not creepy, I am just isolated), and let me tell you, they are doing it wrong. They just pace around the parking lot and look at their phones. Lame, right? If you think I am going to spend my precious recreation time on my phone you are wrong. No, no, no. I came equipped with a jump rope and resistance bands and I make that outdoor area my arena. Of course since recreational time is just a mere 20 minutes, there is a lot of time in my day yet to be accounted for…alone in my hotel room. Don’t you worry. I am keeping busy! But if I told you all about my daily routine right now then what would I write about in the next blog?

Someday over the rainbow…

So you really can’t see Bryan? When will you get out of there? Due to the barricade they so lovingly installed along the perimeter of the hotel, there is no possible, legal way for family and friends to get close enough to wave or talk via the windows. People can drop off packages with reception to be delivered to our rooms but they cannot themselves deliver them. UGH. Also, I am not totally sure what day we are on. Was the night we arrived considered Day 1? Or Day 0? Day 15 is when we are all going to take a COVID test but the results can take 48 to 72 hours (possibly longer). That could mean an extra 3+ days of isolation. So while I AM keeping track of days, I am also trying not to think of how many are left. There is still a long road ahead but I am counting my blessings as there are many amazing people here taking very good care of us and I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Thank you so much for reading and stay tuned for more quarantine updates! 🙂

An Unexpected Turn of Events Pt. 1

An Unexpected Turn of Events Pt. 1

Monday, May 11th. 4:53 pm. The email reads: “You have been allocated a seat on the flight from Miami — Grand Cayman on Friday 15th May.”

I received this email only HOURS after my first blog post. The post in which I said “I have no idea what the next few months will bring.” AKA I was planning to live the next 2+ months in Reedsburg with my parents. And in an abrupt and seemingly random turn of events, I was trying to figure out how I could possibly move abroad with only four days notice. 

I relay this earth-shattering news to my parents. My mom responds with a genuine laugh as if I am joking. My dad becomes super focused and asks “Do you think you can pull this off?” Can we? Could we? My response: “I think so.”

Well spoiler alert: I made it! But before I tell you how this all went down, you may be wondering why this news was so surprising and why it came out of left field. Here’s a bit of context: There has been a travel ban in the Cayman Islands since the end of March. Nobody in and nobody out without special government permission. At this time, you cannot purchase a flight to Cayman in the traditional sense. You can’t go on Kayak and book a trip online. The only way you are getting a seat on a plane is if the government organizes the trip for you and the organized trips are few and far between — and for good reason. The Cayman government has implemented effective mitigation and thanks to that there has been very little (virtually no) community spread of the virus. Anyone who arrives on Island during the pandemic has to go into Government-controlled isolation for a minimum of 14 days. After 14 days, those in isolation are tested for COVID and only upon a negative result are they allowed to leave the facility (a hotel). More to come on this later!

SO what’s crazy is that these trips have so far only been organized for local Caymanians and permanent residents of the Island. At this moment in time, I don’t necessarily fit the description of someone who would be granted permission to enter. At least I didn’t think so. Despite this, I had emailed the Island’s travel hotline and in a Hail Mary attempt explained mine and Bryan’s situation. A week or so later, this email showed up in my inbox completely unannounced. It goes to show, and as my mom always says, if you want something in life you have to ask for it.

Okay, back to the logistical nightmare that was getting ready to move to a Caribbean island with 4 days notice. Well, to be sure, this move would not have been possible without my trooper parents. As much as I know they were sad and would have loved for me to stay with them all summer…they (hardly) let it show and dropped everything to make this happen for me. They took off three days of work! Wednesday to move me out of my apartment, Thursday to take me to Chicago, and Friday to drive all the way back. First, they met me in Saint Paul to pack up my apartment. It was already partially packed up as I was planning to move out by the end of May, but we did the last bit of heavy lifting, turned in my keys, and waved goodbye to the Twin Cities. I also got to see some of my SHS co-workers, shoutout Jennifer, Natalie, Josh, and Geoff! 

Thursday was dedicated to packing my suitcases. Let me say that I have never been one to live by the “minimalist philosophy; however, when you are moving to another country and can only take with you two checked bags, a carry-on, and a personal item, you are kind of forced to practice Marie Kondo’s “does this spark joy?” tool. The problem? Everything was sparking joy. What I had to do was divide my belongings into piles: YES, maybe, and no. The good news is that the entire YES pile made it into my luggages. However, the ‘maybe’ pile was left in the dust. But I will be back for it! Another problem was that my beloved cat Bo kept climbing into my suitcases and he looked so cute so I had to stop to take pictures. 

At the end of a long day of packing, we loaded up my dad’s truck, I telepathically communicated to Bo what was happening, and we hit the road. See you soon Reedsburg! Our last stop before Chicago was to see my brother Chase, my sister-in-law Colleen, and my brand new nephew, Clyde. We grilled out, visited on their patio, and stared at little baby Clyde, fascinated by his cuteness. I tried to telepathically communicate with Clyde too but I only have practice with cats, baby telepathy is a little new for me. 

Later that night we arrived at a Park-Sleep-Fly right by O’hare so we could sleep at least a few hours. We left the hotel a little after 3 am (again, my parents are troopers). They pulled me up outside the American Airlines counter and that is where we had to say our goodbyes 🙁

Nervous? Scared? Sad? Excited? Yes, literally all those emotions and more. I don’t think there is a playbook for how someone is supposed to feel when they leave the only home they’ve ever known (the midwest) and move to a different country — not to mention during a global pandemic. Saying goodbye to friends and family is never easy but this experience so far has made me realize how grateful I am for the relationships I have formed not only with amazing people but also with places. I am so lucky to have a support system that is sad to see me go but equally excited for this adventure that Bryan and I get to live. With that being said, thank you so much to my parents and to those friends and family members who have supported me in preparing for this new chapter. I will see you all soon and when I do I will be tan (but a healthy tan okay, sun protection is still important) and ready to P A R T Y! I don’t know what that means but it felt right to say it. Social distancing is getting to me.

So, as you can see by the title of this blog…this is only part one of “An Unexpected Turn of Events.” I have so much more to fill you in on but unfortunately many people lack the patience for reading (bless your heart if you made it this far) so I am going to break this crazy story into two parts. What I can leave you with is that while no, Bryan and I have not yet been reunited, I HAVE arrived safe and sound on Island! Random luck? Meant to be? Your guess is as good as mine 🙂

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about what life is like in Cayman Government Quarantine!!!

Thanks for reading!

Why I Moved To The Cayman Islands

Why I Moved To The Cayman Islands

Let’s be clear here. I am not typically a spontaneous, go-with-the-flow kind of person. Or at least I haven’t been historically. Moving to a different country, a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, is not a life move I am taking lightly. 24 years of residing in the ever dependable Mid-western states of Wisconsin and Minnesota have instilled within me a certain penchant for stability and predictability. Yes, the Midwest. Where the items that fluctuate most are which weekend in July we are going to spend at our cabin and whether or not we are still going to be dealing with that GD snow in April. To be certain, I am not in any way cutting down this style of living…I actually thrive on it. I am simply providing some context on what this move represents for me. I have already moved from Reedsburg to St. Cloud and then from St. Cloud to Minneapolis…so the most logical next step would obviously be Minneapolis to Grand Cayman. Duh!

Starfish Point at sunset

 You may be thinking…What? Huh? Why? Wow, lucky. How millennial of you. Are your parents okay? Before I go full-send, let’s back up a bit. It all began with a book. A book? Yes, a book…while kind of. Last summer, the (very) tentative 5 year plan that Bryan and I had devised virtually dissolved. We were left with a wide-open playing field and some very interesting decisions to make in a not so very long amount of time. Enter “the book.” This book that I speak of was none other than “The Firm,” by John Grisham…a book I borrowed from my brother, didn’t return (sorry Chase), and then later lent to Bryan. It was also made into a movie starring Tom Cruise in his prime (swoon). I loved this book so much that I insisted Bryan read it…which he did. Bryan loved the book too. His interest was piqued not only because of Grisham’s enticing story-telling abilities, but also because of the setting of the novel — the Cayman Islands. Most people who are excited by the idea of a tropical paradise fulfill their interest by looking at vacation options or watching an episode of “Caribbean Life” on HGTV. As you may have already guessed, Bryan and I aren’t most people. Well…Bryan definitely isn’t. He is markedly unique. Rather than turning to TripAdvisor, he turned to “Employment Opportunities.” Low and behold, there was a position open at an accounting firm in Grand Cayman that matched his qualifications. He applied. He interviewed. He got the job! 

The Blowholes

So…now what? As I mentioned earlier, I am not a spontaneous person. I am not a spur-of-the-moment, let’s-pack-up-and-move kind person. We learned about this opportunity in July and Bryan’s job started the beginning of October. However, I was due back teaching in Somerset, a job I really loved, at the end of August. I had nothing secured in Cayman and at first glance, many teaching positions there required at least 2 years of experience. I only had one. In hindsight, I know we could have made it work. I would have found something. But change is hard, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave my job and my home of 24 years on such short notice. Plus, my parents would have had a conniption. So, Bryan and I made the difficult decision to pursue our careers long-distance for what we had planned to be about 8 months with some visits built in. Bryan would get us set up in Cayman with an apartment and a vehicle. I would continue teaching at SHS and line-up a teaching job on island for Fall 2020. Then, sometime in May, I would officially move to Grand Cayman and Bryan and I would be reunited! Yay! Perfect plan, right? Actually, it was going quite well. Aside from long-distance being difficult, Bryan was able to settle in, I was able to visit the island twice and also find a job that I am really excited about for Fall 2020  (more to come on that later). Bryan and I were on the home-stretch of being long-distance, planning to see each other once more in April followed by my move just a month or so later. Oh yeah…things were running as smooth as the Caribbean beaches. Until… GLOBAL PANDEMIC! Literally. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up people. COVID19 stepped on the scene swiftly and violently and all of a sudden not even the Mid-westerners were safe. 

Margarita by the pool

So…now what? Well, on a more serious note I would like to acknowledge that what is most important right now is that after a rough and uncertain couple of months amidst real, virus-related concerns, both Bryan and I, as well as our families are safe and healthy which we are so thankful for. However, Bryan and I are unfortunately still separated for a couple of reasons. We were hoping to be reunited by the end of May but at this time it is hard to say when our reunion will be exactly. We are awaiting the arrival of my work permit approval while also jumping through the hoops of international travel restrictions. What a time to try to move abroad! Just the same as many people all over the world, COVID19 has thrown a wrench in our plans and made things very complicated but we remain positive as we know we are strong enough to survive the on-going distance and uncertainty.

Dinner at Marriott Beach Resort – Veranda

I can’t speak to what the next few months will look like, but I will surely keep everyone up to date! What I can report after having visited twice this year, is that the island is beautiful…if that wasn’t obvious already. Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands which are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom in the Caribbean sea. Grand Cayman has a population of roughly 60,000. It is located 150 miles south of Cuba and 480 miles southwest of Miami. (Look it up on a map and see if you can find it!) Grand Cayman is 22 miles long with an average width of 4 miles only. Truly tiny. Over 135 different nationalities are represented in Cayman. A little over half of the population is Caymanian followed by Jamaican, British, American, Canadian, Filipino a mix of Latin American, and many more! Bryan being Spanish and Cuban and myself being a Midwestern American…well, I suppose we fit right in! 

Our patio!

Bryan has been in Cayman since October and secured us a cozy 1-bedroom apartment (yes, cozy means small) which is located 10 minutes from Georgetown and is a 3 minute walk to a beach. You can see the ocean from our patio! It even comes with a pool and some fun little pets! — A large crab that has learned how to climb up the stairs, along with many lizards and some boisterous chickens. Bryan also purchased a baby-blue Fiat 500 that we must drive on the left side of the road per Caymanian custom! As far as teaching, I signed on for a year-long maternity leave position at a Montessori Elementary School — literally called “Montessori by the Sea” and will be taking over Phy Ed classes and possibly piloting a Spanish program. While not exactly the position I had originally envisioned, it just kind of found me and now I could not be more excited to work with young kids again and spend the majority of my day outside (by the sea) being active! Sunscreen is about to take on a whole new meaning in my life.

Another shot from Starfish Point

There is certainly a lot to look forward to and we know it is just on the horizon. While it may take longer than originally anticipated, Bryan and I are staying positive and cannot wait to be together again!  Cayman is full of unique and exciting things to do (when not fighting against a pandemic). You can try out snorkeling, scuba-diving, watersports, or one of the many amazing bars and restaurants on the island, just to name a few day-to-day opportunities. During my visits, I definitely got a taste of the island-life, but I am so excited to return and report to you all on what it is like to truly live in the Caribbean. Thank you for reading my first installment of Island Diaries! I am so excited for you to join us on this adventure and I will be sure to report back as soon as we have news to share! (I think we could all use some good news!) Stay tuned!