The Best and Worst of Living in the Cayman Islands
Our entire family sat exhausted with unopened cardboard boxes lying around the table patiently waiting to be unpacked. With a brief respite from unpacking boxes and moving back to the good ol’ United States, I asked everyone at the table to reflect on the best and worst parts of living in the Cayman Islands for the last three years. Moni abstained as only being nine-weeks old. She just sat in her swing rocking back and forth with a milk drunken stupor. It was insightful to hear everyone’s surprising and enlightening observations of the last three years.
Now let me take you back a few years. This whole adventure started back when Nadine and I had this crazy idea to live abroad with our two kids. We had previously circumnavigated the globe together in 2006 and 2007 without kids and loved it then. This time, we needed to make some money and provide for our offspring. We interviewed with various international schools in San Francisco at the ISS job fair in February of 2013. We finally accepted our Counselor and IB Spanish positions at Cayman International School. We soon learned that the Cayman Islands are hidden south of the belly of Cuba. They consist of three islands that are usually identified as being a tax haven. Our three years came and went faster than any planned educational reform in New Mexico could possibly take place. Needless to say, the Cayman Islands left a very positive impression on our family and hopefully we left the place just a bit better.
So back at our wooden dinner table, we compiled our list of the best and worst of living in the Cayman Islands. A list that simply highlights our unique experiences that many can relate to if you’ve visited the Cayman Islands, lived abroad, or imagined what it would be like to the safe confines of your hometown. You will find that one side of our list is a bit longer than the other.
So let’s get this party boat started with the first question people would want answered.
Without a doubt, Seven Mile Beach is the best five and a half mile beach around the Caribbean. The beach is lined with beige colored sand bordering the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. I have spotted rays while simply out for a swim. It’s also a great place to take part in the filming of mockumentaries, paddle board, swim, volleyball, yoga and watch the sunset and cruise ships depart for the horizon. If that is too close to shore, you can always parasail.
Most Interesting Food
Conch Fritters – Inside those big pink shells that your parents brought back from their trip to an island when you were kid that now sit on a book shelf holding up a 1985 Encyclopedia series is where this food originates. Conch is a sea-snail that Caymanians like to fry up. So you don’t sound like a tourist when you visit, the word conch is actually pronounced like “conk”. Can’t say I never warned you. I guess I should have warned Suva about driving in the left lane too. Another bit of advice, don’t call them “The Caymans”, locals really don’t like that too much and you sound like a tourist. They are the Cayman Islands.
Best Place to Conceive Two Children
We took the islands of Koh Tao, Thailand and Maui, Hawaii into consideration for this one, but Grand Cayman won out by sheer number of children conceived and born here. During our three-year stay, we welcomed two beautiful little girls to our family, Annabelle and Monica. Before departing for the Caribbean, my buddy Pepper warned me, given our history of visiting islands and returning with a baby as our life long souvenir, that we were going to return to the States with a soccer team. Currently we have a basketball team with one reserve on the bench.
This question divided our close-knit family. Sophie and Dominic both chose the pizzeria Brooklyn in Camana Bay. I agree, it has some great pizza with a great location, but Nadine and I both went with Tukka out at the East End of the island. The owner is an Aussie and they make some spectacular burgers. So if you eat there, just mention my name and it won’t get you jack shit except a quizzical look. “Mate, I have no idea who this bloody John White is! Now go eat my delicious burger with a fried egg.” Such notable humans that have brought joy to all of our lives have eaten here like Mark Cuban (has a house next door) and Taylor Swift (she sang a few songs I believe) have dined there. Even better, they also let kids go down to the shore and throw fish in the air to feed the frigate birds swooping in for a free meal. Geez, those Aussies sure are generous.
Favorite Tourist Attraction
As soon as tourists step off of their cruise ships, they undoubtedly go to one of three places, Hell (and some you wouldn’t mind staying there), Stingray City, and/or the Turtle Farm. I find two of these spots to be over rated, but Stingray City always lived up to the hype. It’s kind of a big deal. It’s like the Machu Picchu of the Caribbean, but this site also allows you to pet the stingrays. Good luck petting a llama at Machu Picchu, those llamas are such jerks.
I always found when I was stressed or just worn out from teaching, a Saturday afternoon boat trip with a cooler full of Ironshore to Stingray City and Starfish Point was a perfect way to relax and appreciate this beautiful island.
Sophie and Domino always preferred hitting up Margaritaville and their water slide. Fortunately for us adults, there were three individual bars to make child rearing even more enjoyable. Forget that massive Caribbean Sea just right over teeming with fish and fun waves, I’ll take the water slide. This just goes to show you that children only need a pool of water and slide to be happy. You could place their asses in Council Bluffs, Iowa of all places, and kids would still be happy.
Favorite Spots on Island
This is different for different members of the family.
Nadine mentions Smith Cove. It’s a protected little cove south of downtown George Town. It’s framed by white sand and trees surrounding coral and protected swimming. You can jump off the small ironshore cliffs into waves as they roll in. When the wind is howling and the waves are really barreling in, you’ll get thrown around, it gets really fun.
Sophie’s favorite spot was Cayman International School in Mr. Scott’s classroom at her desk. What a nerd! It is a great school though.
Domino mentioned his favorite spot being Public Beach, but every time we mentioned going, he always he resisted. Once he had spent an afternoon at the beach, he was always happy.
My favorite spot just happened to be the dock at Red Bay. Anytime I went for a run, bike ride, or just driving at a safe speed (see #3A) along the southwest coast of Grand Cayman, I would stop there and walk out onto the dock being present. I would take in the feel, sights and sounds of the water, breeze, and clouds rolling overhead. It was my zen spot on island.
Not everything in Cayman was hunky dory while we lived there so here is my shorter Worst list.
The Three Worst Things About Living in the Cayman Islands
#3 – Worst experience
#3B – This one isn’t quite the worst, but I’ll include it for shit and giggles. As mentioned above, the Digicel Cayman Basketball League is legit, or at least in my mind. We were in the playoffs, the Final Four. It doesn’t matter that there were only 7 teams in the league, but it was still the Final Four. Our game was located all the way out at East End and that drive is a brutal 35 minute drive. Well, our game got a bit chippy and towards the end of the second quarter, I caught an elbow right under my left eye. Then I noticed a pool of blood on the court. It was blood streaming from my face and to top it off, I was called for the foul! I had a few choice words for the ref and promptly got kicked out of the game. All the while, a massive storm had moved in from the west and it was a downpour. I then had to drive back to the emergency room with one hand holding gauze to my face and driving with the other while my windshield wipers malfunctioned. Five stitches later, I looked tough, Nadine knows the truth.
#3A – This section won’t take much of your reading time if you’ve made it to this point. Getting pulled over for going “42″ in a 30 mile per hour speed zone. First of all, the speed limit sign had just recently been posted. Literally just a few minutes ago. Secondly, I wasn’t going 42, more like 34, maybe 35, max 36, but definitely NOT 42. And finally, who in their right mind drives that slow on an open road. Plus, the cop that pulled me over was issuing a ticket to another person and just walked out into the middle of the road to pull me over. I pleasantly reminded him that he could make lots of money on that $20 per mile over the speed limit fine, if he just set up post just half a mile east along the byway where everyone averages around sixty.
#2 – Worst expense
#2 – Everything! Pay $6 for a half-gallon of milk. $9 for a small carton of strawberries. $5 for an imperial gallon of gas. Everything on island is imported and as you can see from the prices, you paid for it too. The expense of living and raising four kids on a safe, beautiful island in the Caribbean is what finally forced us to have to leave and return to the States. Honestly, in the only country in the world where chickens are all open range and feel they right away on any road, how can you possibly charge $8 per pound of chicken.
#1 – Most annoying characteristic
For me, the most annoying part of living on Grand Cayman (and if this is the worst, that’s pretty great) was just after that big yellow/orange ball of sun sets, drivers cruise with their bright lights on, blinding anyone coming in their direction. Drive around the bend of any corner and BAM! right in your line of sight are two high beams. These aren’t the good type of high beams from Dumb and Dumber, but the 1,000 watt, scorch your eyes to the retina high beams that leave you seeing blue ovals in your line of sight at night.
Finally, here are some observations we had of the Cayman Islands.
– Unlike the Chinese that are like spitting llamas, people in the Cayman Islands never spit. Or at least hardly ever in front of others.
– Anytime I went to go play basketball on Monday nights at the ARC.
– The Cayman Islands have an eclectic, international feel with 148 nationalities represented in a population of 60,000 people.
– Free range green iguanas and chickens roam the island uninhibited without a care in the world. Our neighbor downstairs would go out everyone morning and pull out a dozen or so eggs from underneath the bushes. At our apartment complex, we had mangos, coconuts, chickens and eggs within reach. On top of all this, we had a massive pool where we could swim any day of the week, unless the cold winds lowered the temps into the upper 70’s, then a wetsuit was much needed.
– We found Cayman International School to be great for our entire family. Both Soph and Dom loved the school. Nadine and I loved working there and the school had a true feeling of family in the school culture with professionals that had unique global views. Working and playing with almost everyone, even that crazy Canuck Coach Greg and Yankee Jayson.
– My favorite critters on island were not really long snakes or green iguanas, but not the banana bird (half the size of an actual banana but much quicker at flying) and the curly tail lizard (curled right up anytime you walked by them).
– We had a massive pool in the “backyard”. Actually it was a pool for 16 apartment buildings, but since Hurricane Ivan pelted the island, the developers ceased construction after 4 apartment buildings.
– There aren’t many spots that give you an elevated view. The Tower at Camana Bay was one such spot that provided 360 degree peripheral views of Rum Point, the Dump, and Seven Mile Beach on island.
These three years passed in a blink of an eye, but those very quick three years enriched our lives more than we could have imagined. We left with great friendships, life experiences, and most importantly, two great little girls to our squad.