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Have you ever met someone who immediately makes you feel welcomed into their life? Someone who makes you feel like you matter? That’s how it feels to meet Nina Squires, owner of Beach Bubbles soap shop in Bodden Town (and the entire strip mall, but we’ll get to that in a second.)

When I met Nina on my first full day in Grand Cayman, I was, well, nervous. It was my first trip to the island and my first time working with CCC. As soon as I met her, my anxiety was gone. She reminded me of one of my biggest—albeit fictional—idols, Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation. She had a sunny disposition, was a hard worker (she was prepping a massive order when I arrived), and was, above all, kind.

When I started asking about her business and her life, she answered my questions very matter of factly, seemingly unphased by the past and I was genuinely surprised by her coolness. Her story isn’t an easy one to tell, but she does it with a grace that is truly admirable.


Humble Beginnings to a Colorful Future

Nina was born in New York but grew up in Connecticut. Her family was in the hospitality industry and they came to Grand Cayman often; they even owned a home on the Northside of the island. At one point, Nina decided to stay for an extended time. She got a job at a local hotel and originally intended for six months...27 years later, she’s still here living the dream.

When asked what brought her to Grand Cayman, she nonchalantly says “God...and an airplane.”

Today, Beach Bubbles is one of Bodden Town’s most popular tourist stops. It’s famous for the unique, colorful, handcrafted soaps and other natural products, but it wasn’t always that way. Beach Bubbles was started out of, for lack of a better word, desperation.

Ten years ago, Nina co-owned a business with her best friend in Cayman, but the deal went south and Nina was left homeless, with half a million dollars stolen from her, and no best friend. She and her rabbit moved into a vacant shop offered by a friend (in the same building Beach Bubbles now lives). She knew she couldn’t sleep on the floor of a shop for long so she racked her brain for ideas. What would she do? Could she open a new business? What would it be?

She had been experimenting with soap making for awhile before this, but just as a hobby. When one of her friends suggested she turned her hobby into a business, she thought the idea was ridiculous, but she wasn’t in a position to say no. So, she did it. With the help of some friends, she started Beach Bubbles. She started mixing soaps, experimenting, and creating a product—a product that now attracts thousands of people every year, many of them repeat customers who stock up for the year.

But it didn’t happen overnight, and this is the part of the story when Nina replaced Leslie Knope as my biggest idol. For nearly seven years, while she built her business, Nina did everything she could to make ends meet.

She sold her car, slept on the floor of her business, and even hooked up a hose and showered in the back room where she made her soaps. It wasn’t an easy time, but Nina never gave up. About four years ago, Beach Bubbles took off. Nina was not just back on her feet, she was floating on air.

“I got up everyday, and I did what I could do,” Nina said. “After I let it go and said ‘you’re going to be grateful and that’s it,’ Tripadvisor stuff started to happen, all this good energy started to happen.”


Not only is the "Be Happy" soap pretty to look at, it's great advice to follow.


She's Got What You Neem

Nina contributes a lot of her success to the Neem, a tree that has been used in medicine in Eastern cultures for centuries. It has been used to treat everything from leprosy to malaria to liver problems.

She did her research, did some experimenting, and created an entire line of neem products. She started selling them in her store not knowing how popular they’d be, now people come to Beach Bubbles to stock up products made with this miracle plant.

“People would say ‘I’ve tried everything, I’ve tried every ointment, I’ve spent thousands of dollars, but this is what worked.’ It’s helped hundreds of people,” she said with a glimmer in her eye. “I just felt like God sent me that neem tree to help people, because He knew I would and I’m not charging more for it than I would for my other stuff.”

As she talked about her neem products, I have to admit, I was skeptical. I grew up watching cheesy infomercials with “miracle products” on TV and learned that most of the time, that stuff doesn’t work at all. But something about Nina made me trust her.

As soon as I walked into her shop she noticed the nearly dozen mosquito bites I had on my arms, legs, and face (yeah, that was annoying) and recognized that I have a heightened sensitivity to them. Since I was a kid, mosquitos follow me around like moths would a flame and their bites would swell, turn bright red, and itch for weeks longer than normal. I’ve tried everything in the past and had essentially given up on remedies because nothing worked. Nina gave me a bottle of her neem lotion and I tried it because I was too polite to express my doubts. To my surprise, it worked! My bites no longer itched and were virtually gone after a couple of days. Her “Bug Off” mosquito repellent lotion also kept me from getting any more bites the entire week I was on island.

As far as I’m concerned, Nina is a miracle worker.


"Never Give Up."

Four years ago, Nina bought a run-down beach house across the street from her store and has been fixing it up. For the first time in years, she had hot water and a real shower.

The real cherry on top of the sundae that is Nina’s life came last September when she was asked to purchase the building that houses Beach Bubbles. She now owns the entire plaza with the goal of creating a tourist destination in Bodden Town. She’s added an art shop featuring local artists and already has a tenant—Cayman Cigar Co. (we’ll learn more about them soon!). A coffee shop is currently under construction in the last suite in the building set to open sometime in 2020.

She’s living the dream.

“I got up and started my whole life over again,” Nina said with tears in her eyes. “I just fought and worked every single day, and I can tell you, to this day right now, the Lord is good.”


One of Nina's favorite pieces on display in the art shop.

My New Friend

While I visited with Nina, another customer came into the shop and I watched her interact with them. The customer had come in a few days prior to get a few things, but had returned because she needed to share the Beach Bubbles products with her friends back home. It was like she had known Nina for years. The two chatted about the soaps and lotions around the store, the customer raving to her mother that Nina’s “heart shows in every single product.”

At one point, the woman mentioned how she’d been visiting the island for years with her family and that her father had missed their trip last year because he was ill and passed away a few months later. She teared up, as anyone would, and Nina joined her in that pain—she’d lost her father a couple years before, too. The two went from raving about the products to hugging each other, sharing in the mutual pain of losing their fathers. I couldn’t help but tear up myself when Nina showed the woman the photo of her father she keeps at the register.

When the guest parted, she said “I love you, Nina” and Nina returned the sentiment.

After giving me a tour of the rest of HER plaza, we chatted for a little bit longer and she gave me tips for getting around the island (since I had no idea what I was doing) and told me to call her if I needed her because she understood how scary it was to be in a new country almost by myself and thought I might need a friend. She was right, of course. I didn’t end up needing to call her, but I did go by and visit my new friend before I left to thank her for her hospitality and show her how well the neem had worked for me. She was thrilled.

People visit Beach Bubbles for the first time to get colorful soaps for their friends, but they quickly find the shop has so much more to offer. Not only do people come back again and again because they fall in love with these special products, but they also come back because they fall in love with Nina’s kindness. I know I’ll be back again and again to visit my new friend.

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This is part two of Wenzil Burlington's story. You can jump back to part one here.

Marriage & Job on Island

In 1967, Wenzil Burlington's girlfriend Martha (who lived on island) told him she was ready to get married. After thirteen years of seafaring, Wenzil came home and the two married at the Church of God in West Bay. When asked how they originally met, he smiled and said, “She was my best friend’s little sister.” They all grew up three blocks from each other in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of West Bay. After the ceremony, Wenzil took a job in maintenance at the Caribbean Club so that he could stay at home in Cayman with his new bride while also working part time at the Pan Cayman House. The couple would go on to have two girls and one boy. Their first girl was an angel baby who tragically only lived a few days. After their loss they were blessed with a baby boy, Derren, in 1969, and then a baby girl, Magdalyn, in 1972.

Burlington Plumbing and Repair Company

Around 1969, the year Derren was born, Wenzil founded Burlington Plumbing and Repair Company. Through his company, he worked at just about every hotel and condominium in Cayman including Christopher Columbus Condos many many times. When asked point blank, he says he retired ten years ago, but during our conversation he had to take a call where I overheard him taking notes and telling the listener on the other end that he’d have someone call him. It was someone looking for a plumber. Wenzil then told me he still owns the company, but that he just doesn't go out on calls any longer.

Retirement & Undefeatable Joy

Retirement wasn't a choice Wenzil wanted to make, but his health forced him to stay inside due to sun strokes. “I couldn’t even stand to look at the sunshine.” For four years he had to stay inside during the day, and would wait until nightfall to run his errands. The only relief he could get was from taking cold showers. Physicians told him there was nothing he could do except stay in and try to keep cool. This went on until his wife implored his doctor to find something that would help. The doctor gave Wenzil a new prescription to try, and it helped. He was able to finally enjoy some daylight again, although he had to switch medicines along the way, and still has to take it easy in the heat to this day.

One would never know that Wenzil has endured such a painful and isolating illness—he has a palpable spirit of pure joy and gratitude. He went on to explain how much he loves living in Cayman with his family—he and his wife live directly next door to their son and grandson, and their daughter lives nearby as well. He says the whole neighborhood is “close,” too. “I like the peacefulness, the lovely people. This is a beautiful place.”

As we wrapped up the interview, we both decided it would be fun to go see his old schoolhouse. Wenzil said he has to go through the Burger King drive-thru to pick up some meat patties on the way home, and offered to get a couple for my husband and I. Back at the condos, I picked up my husband, and we followed Wenzil to his house so he could drop off a patty for his wife, and then continued on to the schoolhouse. When we arrived, we discovered it had unfortunately been torn down. Not wanting the adventure to end, Wenzil invited us to follow him to see an old wire lighthouse in West Bay. We parted ways at the lighthouse, but not before he gave my husband and I each a beef patty for the road. (Sidenote: these patties are really popular in Cayman, and similar to a hot pocket—only ten times better.)

True CaymanKindness

A few days later, I arrived home in the states and received a call from Wenzil. He wanted to check in and see if I’d made it home safely, and we both agreed we were thankful to have met one another and made a new friend. If that’s not CaymanKindness I don’t know what is! He said he probably forgot to tell me some things for the story, and I assured him it's not meant to be comprehensive. As I think about it, I'm amazed at the amount of stories I heard from him in such a short amount of time, and I am in complete awe of this man's epic life.



Thank you to Magdalyn Burlington for getting us the historical photos to add to this post. In our correspondence, I learned that Wenzil won several awards that he humbly forgot to mention during the interview. A couple that Magdalyn sent along were the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cayman government for Commerce Business Development in 2003, and the Medal of Honour Commander from the Order of the Cayman Islands in 2010. Magdalyn also shared two poems that Wenzil wrote a couple decades ago that you can read here and here.

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Grocery Store Fosters Friendship

One of my favorite parts of visiting Cayman is the way CaymanKindness seems to radiate from every corner of the island, sometimes in the most unexpected places. I can never guess where I'll meet a new friend on the island, and the tale of how I met Wenzil Burlington is no different! On a quick trip to pick up groceries for our condo, I was looking for a stall to return my cart in the Foster's parking lot. I wasn't able to find one, so I started to push my way back to the store's entrance when I heard a sweet voice holler, “Just leave it, they will come and get it.”

“Anywhere?” I asked confused.

“Yeah, they will come get it,” Wenzil assured me with an island ease.

So I parked my cart by a palm tree, and we started talking. I asked Wenzil if he had always lived in Cayman, and he replied, “All my life, except for thirteen years at sea.” After hearing that amazing answer, I knew I had to hear more, so I talked him into meeting up later. He suggested we chat at Burger King the following Monday. 

On the day of our interview, Wenzil met me at the condos so I could follow him to Burger King. When we arrived, the inside was closed for remodeling, so we drove another couple of blocks down to Wendy’s on Wenzil's suggestion. I got us both a coffee, and we dove right in.

Growing up Caymanian in the 30s & 40s

Wenzil Ebanks was born in 1935 in Grand Cayman. He said the island was quiet at that time, and most families were very poor due to the lack of economic opportunities. To his memory, there were only seven cars in all of West Bay. Without formally organized recreational activities, the kids had to create their own fun. Wenzil fondly recalled playing with a “wheeler”—a bicycle wheel with the spokes removed, which the kids would then roll and chase down the road with a stick. He also made tops with a guava tree and a nail (they called them gigs). I could tell he was pretty proud of them, as he explained that he’d pop one up on his thumbnail, and it would stay spinning for what seemed like forever. He also remembered making kites and flying them in pastures. Made to whistle, you could hear the kites “singing” a mile away.

“When I was growing up, if you wanted a dinner of conch, we’d just go to Barker’s, roll the pants leg up, walk out to sea, and get as many as you want. And go at night with a flashlight and you could get all the lobsters you want.”

He attended school until sixteen, in both his own home and other small, local school houses with other children of various ages. He recalled two of his teachers, Miss Alice Yates & Miss Ridley Powey, who went to Jamaica to qualify as teachers. 

Turtling in the Miskito Cays

At sixteen, Wenzil went turtling in the Miskito Cays off the coast of Nicaragua. As he told stories of that time, I felt like I was immersed in a novel of epic tales. He narrated how they would set up huts on sandbars off the coast because the sand fleas were too much to bear ashore. “In those days the turtles were unbelievable. They’d swim right along side your boat. [There were] a lot of them.”

Wenzil explained the process of catching a turtle, which was far over my head, but it involved finding the perfect rock, anchoring your net, casting that net out, and then coming back the next day. On his last trip, he and his fellow crew members encountered a frightening "freak storm." Wenzil barely made it back in his catboat, and he sadly recalled a couple of boats sinking—losing three of his friends in the storm. As I listened to more of Wenzil’s stories, near-misses seemed to be intertwined in many of this seaman’s journeys.

Swan Islands

After the loss of his three friends, Wenzil decided it was time to change course in his life. He joined up with Caymanian captains Harry and Donald Glidden on Swan Islands—two very small islands between Cayman and Honduras. During WWII, these islands were used as a weather station by the American military and post-war there were still a few Americans stationed there. Wenzil described the Gliddens as the caretakers of the island. During his stay there, he picked, shelled, and sun-dried coconuts that were bound for Tampa, Florida, on a sea route that originated in Costa Rica. Wenzil also worked, under the guidance of two Caymanian chefs, for the Americans who were stationed with the weather bureau on the islands after the war. In total there were only about twenty-six people on the island. At first Wenzil liked the remoteness, but after a while he said he needed to get away.

Banana Boats & Diplomas

Seeking more opportunity to roam, Wenzil decided to work on a banana boat that ran a circuit from Costa Rica to Tampa, hauling bananas to the US marketplace. He worked his first banana boat for a little over a year, and had another run-in with a large storm. With great respect, he recalled the hurricane they encountered between Cuba and the Swan Islands that they had to fight for three long days.

Also while aboard his first banana boat, he earned diplomas for diesel and gasoline through a correspondence course. He received lessons and submitted his coursework to class's home base in Ohio. 

The next job he took was on a bigger banana boat. “That was a nice boat! It was a millionaire’s yacht, and they converted her into a banana boat.” They’d pass through the Panama Canal every week. He started out as a messman, and he laughed as he told me, “We had a cook that could really make a mess. He would use two pots just to boil one egg—just to give me work to do.”

On this boat, he advanced from Messman to Oiler, a position where he’d oil, clean, and check the temperature of the engine. Then he moved from Oiler to Second Engineer—jobs he received because of his diplomas. It was also around this time that Wenzil change his last name from "Ebanks" to "Burlington," which was originally his middle name. He said there were always mix-ups on the boats, especially with mail, because there were so many Ebanks at sea. He was tired of missing his letters, so he changed it on one of his stayovers at home.

While on a stayover in Tampa, waiting to board another banana boat, Wenzil experienced another traumatic event. While waiting, his visa was running short on time, and eventually he was told he had to leave the US, banana boat or no banana boat. The day he was supposed to catch a different ship out of the States, he went to get a haircut before boarding. While getting his trim, a man walked in and shot and killed the barber that was cutting his hair. Wenzil was so frightened that he jumped up out of the chair and ran as fast as he could all the way to the ship, with half a haircut and a towel still around his neck. (Another seafarer helped him straighten up his haircut later.) Eventually, he discovered the motive of the crime was infidelity, AND the banana boat he originally intended to catch sank near Trinidad. Two additional near-misses. As I was talking with Wenzil, I began to think it was somewhat of a miracle that he was sitting across from me!

Iron Ore Ships & Oil Tankers

Upon his return to Cayman, Wenzil got recruited to New York to work aboard a huge iron ore ship that ran back and forth between Venezuela and the east coast of the United States. This was during the 1960s, and “They were some of the biggest ships in the world.” He worked his way from Wiper, to Oiler Fireman, Junior Engineer, Junior III, and all the way up to Relief 1st. He studied fiercely on the ship for his next course, and passed his test for the 3rd engineer license in New York. When asked if he liked New York, Wenzil said he enjoyed it and would go to ball games to watch the Braves (when they were in town) if he had time in between ships.

After working the iron ore ships for some time, he moved on to working on oil tankers that went to the far east and middle east, including places like India, Pakistan, Aden, and Israel. He explained how they went through the Suez Canal in Egypt to get to everything in the far East. He sailed aboard many oil tankers throughout his career—at least seven or eight ships.

Wenzil then went from oil tankers to what he called Liberties, which hauled coal from the east coast of the US to Europe, including Germany, Holland, Spain. Before the age of thirty, he’d seen more of the world than most people see in a lifetime.

He got a green card in 1966, and went on to work on American ships through a mariner’s union. There was an opening for a pumpman, and a friend of his told him he’d only be asked three questions for the certification at the Coast Guard. He hadn’t studied for years, but decided to give it a shot. When he arrived, he ended up having to take a written exam with 180 questions—a far cry from the 3 he expected! But it turned out he underestimated himself, only missing 5 questions, and then getting 3 of the 5 he missed correct when verbally asked again later. The examiner was going to give him his 3rd Engineer License, but unfortunately those licenses were only given to American citizens. So instead he gave Wenzil the next best thing—a QMED Engineer license. Wenzil continued working at sea for another couple of years before settling at home in Cayman.

Want to know what brought Wenzil home to Cayman?

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Finding fresh guava, foraging for almonds, swimming with sea turtles, watching locals slap down dominoes, sipping a 7 Mile Wheat beer... the amount of firsts you'll experience on a tour with Joe Tourist is incredible.

If you're looking to see a different side of Cayman, Gilbert Nicoletta with Joe Tourist will plan an unforgettable day just for you. He customizes all of his tours for individual guests, and after experiencing his All Island Tour on our last trip to Cayman, my husband and I are believers. We can't wait to schedule another tour with Gil.

snorkeling and picking guava

The adventure started as soon as he picked us up at Christopher Columbus Condos. He greeted us with fresh yellow sapote from his yard and some herbs to taste. To loosen us up for the day, he took us by the rum distillery for a tasting. I joked that I hadn't had breakfast and needed some sustenance, so Gil took us by a local food truck for some Caribbean meat pies after the distillery.

Drives between stops were fascinating as Gil told us story after story about about the social, economic, and environmental history of the Cayman Islands. Some stories were personal, others general culture, and still others hilarious tall tales. He explained why so many youth go into banking, how locals refer to time as Before-Ivan and After-Ivan, reminisced on raising Pigeons (if you had one with a "top-knot," you were the bomb), and so much more. Learning more about our home-away-from-home deepened the bond I have with this little Caribbean island. It will add to your love for Cayman too.

Jumping off the dock at Spotts Bay, we had the majestic opportunity to swim alongside several sea turtles. In the parking lot, Gil told us how the famous house-shaped graves of Cayman used to have wood pieces in the center with details engraved, but over the years the wood weathered away. He also spotted an almond tree and showed my husband, Brandon, and I how to crack them open. Brandon was a natural at opening them and I got to enjoy the fruits of his labor. ;)

Alongside the road, Gil found fresh guava for us to pick and enjoy as an appetizer before a feast that awaited us at Over the Edge Cafe. We enjoyed turtle and Cayman style bread, mahi mahi, cracked conch, farm to table veggies and more—a taster's platter full of local dishes you can only get on Gil's tours.

With full bellies, we walked into the North Side heritage day to see what was happening. Gil introduced us to local crafters that were plaiting baskets and rope with silver thatch. One of the women working on a basket told us the craft was a tradition handed down from her grandmother to her mother to her. While we were talking, another local approached the crowd, and my eyes widened in delight. It was Shelly Miller. We met at Rum Point a couple of years ago, thus proving Cayman is a small island indeed. It was fun to get to experience that as a visitor.

We continued to Starfish Point to see the sweet 5-pointed creatures and enjoy an amazing sunset. At dusk we drove by Davinoff's Concrete Sculpture Garden and then began to slingshot around the East End.

local tour guide with ccc guest

As the night settled in, Gil rolled his windows down so we could listen to some "old timers" playing dominoes at one of the East End beach shelters. He said if we heard someone slap them down that it basically meant "game over." The weather wasn't prime for the Blow Holes, but we stopped there anyways so Gil could show off the fossils in the iron shore, including one ancient crocodile.

On our way back to the condos, Gil continued to regale us with stories, my favorite being the family tradition of going crabbing after the first spring rain. He said that come May, "everybody's in the bushes" and on the side of the road looking for crabs, dreaming of baked crab-back.

Gil dropped us back off at the condos after a day filled to the brim with unforgettable stories and experiences. If you're interested in a custom island tour with Gil reach out to him on his Joe Tourist Cayman Facebook page. You won't regret it!

You can also read reviews from other adventurers over on the Joe Tourist Outdoor Adventures Trip Advisor page.

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If you’ve ever been to the Cayman Islands National Museum, you have seen the incredible exhibits and experienced the history of Cayman. Meet Brian Watler Jr, the man who is responsible for designing these amazing exhibits.

Brian Watler Jr. was born and raised in Cayman. His family has been living in Cayman for many generations spanning back to his great-great grandparents and beyond. Brian says his favorite thing about the island is the culture. When describing the culture, Brian stated, “We have a way of doing and saying things that is so unique. Every single district has its own ‘accent’; you can tell if someone grew up in North Side or George Town just by their accent. You can even tell if someone’s from Cayman Brac or Grand Cayman by their accent. For such a small island, the culture is extremely unique.” He has been able to turn his passion for the culture into a career working as a PR/Media and Design Specialist for the National Museum.

Brian describes the National Museum as the living connection to Cayman’s past. His view is that the museum allows current and future generations to experience the island’s unique cultural heritage. With a passion for both design and culture, Brian can think of no better fit for a career than the National Museum.

Brian’s journey with the National Museum began in 2015 when he interned for the museum to design their 25th Anniversary logo. They were so pleased with the design that they brought him on board to design the 25th Anniversary exhibition and publication. Since then, Brian has taken on his current role where he works to create press releases, update the museum’s social media and website, and other PR-related activities. However, his favorite part of the job is getting to use his design skills to create a cultural and historical experience for museum visitors. Brian says that while most people with a degree in graphic design get to design flyers and brochures, he gets to design exhibits!

Last year, the museum installed an exhibition titled, “Cayman Airways: Celebrating 50 Years of Our National Airline.” Designing this exhibition was extremely enjoyable for Brian. As a child, he always had dreams of becoming a pilot, and he still owns a collection of airplane models, a few of which are Cayman Airway custom-made models. Most of all, Brian enjoys the interactive nature of this exhibit. “What I really enjoy most about the exhibition is the exterior airplane fuselage—it’s as if you’re boarding the aircraft—then you enter the gallery and see this fascinating display of airplane models ‘flying’ in the case.” This exhibit gives an in-depth look into the history of Cayman aviation from its humble beginnings to now employing over 400 employees.

Not only does Brian design amazing exhibits for the museum, he also teaches Quadrille (Cayman’s traditional dance) to students at Edna M. Moyle Primary School. This is his second group that he has worked with to teach Quadrille. His first group of students won a Gold award at the National Children’s Festival of the Arts in 2012. In his free time, Brian is actively involved in helping out in his community and church. He loves to photograph the island and visit with the elders in his community to hear their stories. Brian’s passion for Cayman culture and his community is obvious. He is even going back to get his Master’s Degree in Marketing: Digital Marketing and Advertising since his work for the museum is so closely related to marketing.

With his passion and knowledge, we had to ask Brian what other activities were a must-do for Cayman visitors. He recommends Pedro St. James Castle, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Cayman Crystal Caves and Cayman Turtle Centre. He believes all of these institutions are vital to understanding Cayman culture.

The next time you are on island, make sure to stop by the National Museum and learn more about the culture of Cayman and see some of Brian’s work!

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Shelly Glasgow grew up in the 60's and 70's in a Cayman that had many unpaved roads, a population that spanned about 7,000 - 12,000 residents over the two decades and only 403 tourists in the year 1970. A lot has changed in Cayman since her childhood, but three things still hold true: her big beautiful personality, her love for her family and her love for the island.

I met Shelly while trying some local fare at Champion House II. She was our waitress, and her warm and welcoming presence captured my attention immediately. When I discovered she grew up in Cayman, I asked gleefully if I could interview her for the blog. We sat down a couple days later at Champion House II before Shelly's shift to chat about what life was like growing up in Cayman. She opened up to me with such ease, wisdom and joy—making me feel as if I was sitting with an old friend.

shelly and champion house II owner
Shelly (right) pictured here with Dorothy Scott (left), owner of Champion House II.

Shelly grew up in a small wattle and daub home in Georgetown with her parents and 7 siblings. She grins widely as she remembers their home, "I don't know how we lived there, but it seemed to be the biggest house in the world because there was so much love there."

Her love for her parents shines through brightly as she talks about their unbroken love and how they didn't have much growing up, but that they always provided for their needs. As children she and her siblings had no idea they weren't well off because her parents always kept their childhood happy and they never went without basic necessities.

Shelly's father, a Caymanian, worked "on the ship" as many men did then. There wasn't much industry available on island at the time, so men would go to sea to make money for their families while women stayed at home to raise the children. Shelly fished from rocky shores as a kid (caught a lot of snappers), and spent a lot of time with her neighbors. Parents would take turns watching after the kids in the neighborhood, so she bounced from house to house to play with neighbor kids. In those days "everybody know everybody." She laughs and then shares that people would often show up to each others houses uninvited. According to Shelly her mom made the best straw hats out of silver thatch (she longingly wishes for one now), and her dad trained her how to chop coconuts as a child—a skill she would later use as a waitress at Coconut Joe's. Shelly's childhood was that of a true island girl with strong community and a wholesome family life.

Shelly attended the only high school on the island at the time which was on Walker Road in South Sound. She recalls her father telling her, "I hope you find a job that matches your personality because I would hate to see you behind four walls with all this paperwork and all this personality going to waste." After high school she gave life as a flight attendant a try, but ultimately decided that the hospitality industry in Cayman was for her. Almost 40 years later Shelly is still in the hospitality industry, and she's exactly where she belongs. "I think I have the greatest job in the world,"  she exclaims. Shelly has been at Champion House II for two years and loves every minute of it. She's always approached her jobs as if the business she's working for is hers, with total commitment and love. She loves everyone, and says, "If you can't get along with me there's something wrong with you. You better check it out." I laugh, and she laughs her big welcoming laugh; and I believe her 100%.

As Shelly built a successful career in hospitality, she also raised three beautiful children as a single mom. She proudly tells me all about Selena, Serena and Brandon and how lovely a place Cayman is to raise kids. Brandon her oldest just graduated with his bachelor's and got engaged, so we excitedly look through some photos on her phone. She recommends Smith Cove for swimming outings with kids—she loved taking hers there when they were young.

I ask Shelly what she likes to do in her free time, and it's such a sweet answer. She likes going to her neighbors to sit and chat, grabbing an occasional drink at Wellie's Cool Spot (a local restaurant and bar she recommends), walking, going to the pool and playing dominoes, cards or checkers. She's got this island life figured out, and I am warmed by her spirit and love for the simple life. At one point she tells me, "Cayman life is one of the top lives," and I know it's true. At the end of the interview she invites me to come back tomorrow.

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In the spirit of Easter, we are excited to introduce our guest blogger for this month, Claire Moore, who recently attended Mass at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in West Bay. Claire shares her wonderful experience worshiping while on vacation in Cayman below! 

During my time spent in the Cayman Islands, the experiences that stand out the most were the ones that showed me the true lifestyle of the Caymanians. . . and what better way to experience the local community than to attend a Sunday service at a neighborhood parish? From the exterior, Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church seemed to resemble any modernly designed church one would find in middle America; however, once I walked in, I was met with an explosion of color from all around. The beautiful and bright Caribbean sun worked its magic through the stained glass windows, streaming in through both sides of the room. The people standing up front in the choir had bright smiles on their faces, ready to sing their hearts out. Even the congregation all seemed to be dressed in vibrant, island colors—a mix of locals and tourists alike waiting for Mass to begin. Growing up Catholic, I knew what to expect from a typical Sunday church service—the familiar songs, the readings from the Bible, the homily from the priest, and of course, communion. However, this service was already off to a unique and intriguing start.

I remember Father Edwin, the priest residing over the Mass that morning, seemed to have a quiet yet joyful peace about him as he read from the gospel of Mark: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. . . and you must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” I smiled to myself when I heard those words, since everything about my experience in the Cayman Islands so far had reflected that sentiment. I thought of my first encounter with the lovely Patricia at Christopher Columbus Condos, welcoming us all to the island with her warm hugs and infectious smile. I thought of Scottie, our scuba instructor, who kept us smiling with his knowledge and wonder at the sea creatures below. Before I could drift off too far into my memories, we were all standing up together to say the Our Father and exchange the sign of peace. Once again, the room filled with this palpable spirit of joy as everyone turned around and shook hands with each other, beaming smiles on their faces. I thought to myself how easy it was to already feel like a neighbor in Cayman when everyone is treating you like their own!

The joy continued as the choir soared into a beautiful rendition of the “Lamb of God,” nearly bringing a tear to my eye. In that moment, the passion and love that the choir showed for their faith took my breath away. It helped me to focus and to pray with more authenticity, even if I had been through the motions of this service many times before. I was truly inspired to thank God for such a blessing, experiencing His love on such a beautiful island surrounded by such loving and spirit-filled people.

As communion was wrapping up, I packed up my things, expecting to leave shortly thereafter. However, Father Edwin smiled and asked all the visitors to the parish to stand. As a few people from my pew and I stood up, the choir again burst out into joyous song, singing their “Welcome Song” to us. At this point, I was laughing out loud! The people of Christ the Redeemer parish truly took loving God and loving your neighbor to the next level that morning. I walked into that church feeling like a tourist, just out for another new experience on the island, and I left feeling like a local, a neighbor, a friend. I could not recommend this experience more; not just for deepening your faith, but also for tasting the true Cayman kindness that truly exists everywhere you go on the island.


Father Edwin with Claire and her boyfriend, Devon
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Did you know that Grand Cayman is home to one of only a handful of bioluminescent bays in the world? Bioluminescence is a fancy name for “light-up” creatures like fireflies, glow worms, and jellyfish. In Cayman, tiny light-up creatures live in the waters off the north side of the island, a short boat ride away from Rum Point. We recently took an unforgettable tour of the bioluminescent bay led by Tom Watling, who helped us see these enchanting creatures up close.

Tom and Lisha Watling are the owners of Cayman Kayaks, who offer eco-friendly tours of the bioluminescent bay by double kayak or by boat. Cayman Kayak tours run only on moonless or low-light evenings so the experience with the bioluminescence can be as enjoyable as possible. The tours embark from Rum Point, and while it’s a bit of a drive from West Bay, it’s well worth the trip.

We took the boat tour of the bay, and the boat itself was almost as neat as the tour! Tom’s boat, Moonless Moments, might look like a regular catamaran at first glance, but it was custom designed with the touring experience and the utmost safety of the bioluminescence in mind. The boat is electric, which protects the organisms from harmful fuel emissions, and its walls are high and painted black to help block out nearby streetlights. Panels in the floor of the boat pop out, allowing tour goers to get up close and personal with the bioluminescence without swimming in the bay. Tom explained to us that everyday things like sunscreen, lotions, perfumes, and hair care products are harmful to the bioluminescence, so swimming in the bay is strongly discouraged and tour goers are advised to avoid or wash off any sunscreen or lotion beforehand.

As we entered the bay, Tom passed around a paddle to put in the water. When we looked over the side of the boat, suddenly the water surrounding the paddle lit up a bright blue. It was impressive and beautiful, and that was just the beginning of the light show. Once the boat stopped inside the bay, Tom popped out the panels in the boat’s floor, and we were able to play in the water and see the bioluminescence up close. With every swipe of my hand, dozens and dozens of little creatures lit up blue along my movements like fairy dust. Though small, the light provided by these creatures is mighty!

Tom and a friend kayak in the bioluminescent bay (Courtesy of Cayman Kayaks

Though the organisms in Cayman’s bioluminescent bay haven’t been studied officially, Tom told us that they are believed to be Pyrodinium Bahamense. Dr. Michael Latz of the Marine Institute in San Diego, California, toured the bay with Tom and noted that the organisms were very similar to those in another, extensively studied bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico—Mosquito Bay. Though he didn’t put the Cayman creatures under a microscope, he felt there were enough similarities to hypothesize that Cayman is also home to the Pyrodinium Bahamense.

In addition to the magic of the bioluminescence, getting to chat with Tom during the tour was a treat in itself. He told us that his parents first visited Cayman from Canada on their honeymoon in the 1980s and immediately fell head-over-heels for the island. It would be almost a year before they went back home at all! As a first-generation Caymanian, Tom is a strong advocate for protecting and conserving Cayman’s natural beauty. He recalls the first time he really noticed the bioluminescence, saying, “I was out on my back out on a dock looking up at the stars—the star gazing is great this side of the island. I went to shore and picked up a coconut and brought it to the end of the dock, threw it up in the air, and watched it splash. It didn’t splash as per usual, though—it glowed, sparkled, and because the end of the dock was in shallow waters, shoals of fish shot out from every direction of impact from the coconut hitting the surface. Phosphorescence! I thought to myself. Incredible!

When asked what it is about the bay that invokes such passion in him, Tom answered, “It’s the small things that makes the muscle behind my eyes tighten and my heart squeeze into tears of joy. That is what Cayman’s wildlife is all about to me—the knowledge of what you are looking at, and then getting up close to the tiny life structures and truly appreciating these life forms.”

A naturalist in every sense of the word, Tom shares his passion for nature with those on his tours. One of my favorite moments of the tour was when he stopped the boat and took the time to point out some of the constellations in the sky above, gently encouraging each of us to take a few moments, breathe in the ocean air, and be present in nature.

With Tom after our tour. 

Next time you visit the island, I highly recommend you book a tour of the bioluminescent bay—it will be an experience you won’t soon forget! And if you’re interested in helping keeping the bay happy and healthy for generations to come, you can read more about how you can support Tom and Lisha’s efforts here.


*Cover photo courtesy of Cayman Kayaks
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The blue iguana is a beautiful and important animal native to the Cayman Islands. The blue iguanas, or blues, were once faced with extinction, but are now on their way back to a stable, healthy population. We were lucky enough to get some insights into how the blue iguanas are being revitalized from Nick Ebanks. Nick is the Operations Manager of the Blue Iguana Recovery, which is an initiative of The National Trust for the Cayman Islands. The recovery itself is located on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park on the north side of the island, about a 45 minute drive from the condos.

The Blue Iguana Recovery Program was founded in 1990 as an effort to save the critically endangered species, whose population was down to only 30. The facility cares for and monitors blue iguanas, aids in the breeding process, strategically releases ready iguanas into the wild, and works with research institutions to help ensure genetic diversity within the wild population. In July 2018, the program hit a huge milestone when the wild population reached 1,000 blues. Though the program has successfully saved the blue iguanas from extinction, the work isn’t over. The ultimate goal is for the blues to be able to naturally breed and support themselves in the wild, thus eliminating the need for the program altogether. Nick says, “If we lose our jobs—perfect. That’s the goal.”


The very photogenic Peter

As Nick showed us around the rescue, I asked him a few questions about himself. Nick is a native Caymanian from West Bay. Though he didn’t always expect to be a conservationist, he’s grown to deeply appreciate and respect all forms of living creatures. After a period of time working with bats, he began volunteering at the iguana rescue around four years ago. After getting plenty of on-the-job experience, he worked all the way up to his operations manager position today. When asked what he likes most about his job, he said he really enjoys spending time outdoors, and working with great, like-minded people who are all very dedicated to taking care of the iguanas. He said conservation is very fulfilling and meaningful work, plus it’s an added bonus to be free from the restrictions that come along with an office job.

As we looked around, one of Nick’s coworkers, warden Alberto, joined us. Alberto showed us the “main attraction” blue iguana, Peter. Peter was born in 2003 to wild parents, but he liked to hang around Botanic Park so much that he basically adopted the staff himself! The program recruited Peter as an educational animal since he is so friendly—he enjoys being picked up by Alberto to be shown to visitors and isn’t bothered at all by attention. As I soon learned, Alberto himself is also a bit of a park star. He has a huge heart for the iguanas and is a beloved tour guide, so I’d highly recommend you request him if you stop by!


Alberto and Nick 

In addition to meeting a few of these sweet iguanas, the best thing about the tour was learning all about the animals from Nick. The iguanas blue color can change due to their environment, the sun, their food, and mood. It’s also a great indicator of overall health, so the staff monitors each iguana's color every day. One of the neatest things I saw while visiting was a small territorial spat between two roaming iguanas, Shreddy and Orro. Nick explained that Orro tread a little too closely on Shreddy’s territory, then pointed out how Orro took up a submissive posture and her color turned more light blue as a show of, “Hey, I know you’re top iguana, it’s all good here.” It was very cool to see up close!

As you might have guessed, Nick’s passion for animals and the Cayman wilderness extends beyond just his day job. At home he is fostering a dog named Vinny. He also tries to spend as much time as possible outdoors, doing everything from climbing, exploring, and observing native birds and insects to getting in a game of ultimate frisbee. “I like to keep it nice and simple—busy and simple,” he says. Once he reaches the goal of the blue iguanas being able to sustain themselves in the wild, he'd like to work with revitalizing native bird populations.


A beautiful blue enjoying basking in the sun in Botanic Park

I highly recommend you come visit the blues yourself the next time you’re on island and say hi to Nick, Alberto, and Peter. You can catch one of two daily tours given, Monday through Saturday, or you can schedule a private tour. Then you should see if you can spot some of the roaming blues in Botanic Park! Check out their website for more information about tour times.

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This post was written with traditional honeymooners in mind, but we'd like to think that we all need a little "honeymooning" in our life. Yea, we just made that a verb! So whether you're planning your first vacation as a married couple, you've been married 25 years or you're enjoying the single life this post has a little something for anyone looking to enjoy the romance that is life. Now let's set the stage!

It’s just the two of you now, ready to start your life of new adventures together and the first adventure is a big one. That’s right, the honeymoon. Before you get in the car and drive or board an airplane, you have to decide where your honeymoon destination will be.

You could choose big city, small country or even Disney, but we sincerely believe your best option is grand beach. Specifically, Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman island.

With stunning beachfront views, crystal clear water and some of the best scuba diving spots in the world, Grand Cayman is the perfect backdrop for a romantic and adventurous honeymoon.

The Cozy Stay

Christopher Columbus Condos on Seven Mile Beach has 30 intimate units to choose from including 16 Ocean View and 4 Ocean View Penthouse units. Each unit includes a fully equipped kitchen for those who like to stay in and cook (for those who prefer to go out to eat, keep reading) and an open concept living room. The entire property also offers free WiFi and provides beach towels so you don’t have to worry about packing your own. To make your stay even homier our beloved Christopher Columbus staff is on site Monday-Saturday to accommodate all of your needs including daily housekeeping services.

With only 30 units the property is quiet, peaceful, and there's plenty of room on our large beach.

Speaking of beaches...

The Private Beach

One of our favorite spots to hang out on the entire property is of course our beach backyard! While on the beach you and your new spouse can relax under one of our 13 thatched huts and read a book, take a nap or:

  • Go snorkeling
  • Swim in the pool or ocean
  • Stand Up Paddleboard
  • Swing under a hut
  • Play bocce ball and so much more

The Food

Food is a basic necessity for survival. Amazing food is found in Cayman. In addition to traditional Caymanian cuisine, restaurants on the island offer Caribbean, European, Farm-to-Table and Mexican to name a few varieties. Check out this list of some of our favorite lunch spots to get your culinary adventure started.

The Memories to Make

After hearing about our private beach we wouldn’t judge you one bit if you and your new spouse relaxed on the beach or poolside everyday of your stay. However, if you do feel like seeing more of what our beautiful island has to offer we have a few suggestions for where to begin.

The Photo Opps

Honeymooning at Christopher Columbus is sure to leave you and your special someone with some amazing memories that you will cherish forever. If you’re wondering how it can get any better let’s talk about photo opportunities and the FOMO your family and friends are sure to have after seeing all your pictures.

Lover’s Wall

Lover’s Wall is a brick wall located along the East End on Sea View Road on the way to the Blowholes. It's red heart sign is the perfect spot for newlyweds to snap a keeper to frame later.

Sunsets

Picking a favorite Cayman sunset is just as wrong as picking a favorite child. The good news for honeymooners like yourselves, is a gorgeous sunset fills the sky every night creating a breathtaking backdrop for honeymoon photos. The unique lighting can also create a romantic silhouette shot.

CaymanKind

Finally, something we are 100% certain no other honeymoon destination will have. The kind, warm and inviting charisma from Cayman residents. They are delighted to share their love of the island and you'll be delighted you chose to honeymoon in Cayman.

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