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Blog Home > Author > Toni Keesee
Toni Keesee
Toni first traveled to the Cayman Islands and stayed with Christopher Columbus Condos in the fall of 2013. She was amazed by the magnificent, blue color of the ocean and the breathtaking view of it from her balcony. She loved cruising around the island and sampling local cuisine. She has joined us several times since and now regularly blogs for us and manages our online marketing!

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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Native Cayman dishes are an outstanding combination of island cuisine meets home-style cooking—deliciousness that you have to experience. Admittedly, it took a few trips for us to discover what dishes were unique to the island and where to find them. Once you sample the local food, though, you'll find yourself craving trips to Cayman not only for it's beauty, but also for dishes you can only get on island! Here are a few places you can "taste" Cayman culture for yourself.


  1. Champion House II

If you want to try local cuisine, Champion House II is a must-stop. The down-to-earth feel of the restaurant matches the seriously amazing home-style food. Sample Cayman-style fish, jerk chicken, turtle stew, conch stew, callaloo & ackee. Tip: Try several dishes by hitting up one of the daily buffets or best of all the Sunday brunch!


   

  2. Rankin's Jerk Centre

Grab some of the best jerk chicken on island at Rankin's Jerk Centre. Offering takeout and located in Bodden Town, this is the perfect pit stop for lunch or dinner on your way to or from the East End. It's also crazy affordable. Probably the least we've spent on a meal in Cayman!

     

  3. Boggy Sand Cafe

If you've got your heart set on Turtle Stew, we suggest a quick trip up the road to Boggy Sand Cafe. Just 1 kilometer from the condos and located right before Foster's, it's a convenient trip for which your taste buds will thank you.

     

  4. Vivine's Kitchen

Vivine's Kitchen is an island staple located on the East End. It's off the beaten path and as local as you can get, serving dishes such as salt beef & beans and Cayman-style fish. Enjoy dining in the tiny, unassuming interior or sit at a picnic table outside overlooking the sea. Hop on one of two resident hammocks after you chow down. Tip: It's cash only, so come prepared.

     

  5. Heritage Kitchen

Boasting "All Local Food," Heritage Kitchen is a great place for native seafood dishes and a chill island vibe. The Cayman-Style Grouper is absolutely delicious. So delicious, we went back twice in one trip for it! Also, don't miss the fish tea. (Hint: It's actually soup!) P.S. Heritage Kitchen is also cash only.

     

  6. Da Fish Shack

Da Fish Shack is a bit less "local-kitchen" than the other eateries on this list, but you don't want to miss their breadfruit dishes. Fried breadfruit and breadfruit pudding give yummy homage to the popular Cayman crop that's often compared to a potato in taste and consistency.

     

  7. Over the Edge Cafe

This North side restaurant and bar is ideal if your group is split on trying local fare. Some can indulge in tasty local cuisine like Cayman Style Lobster and a variety of turtle dishes, while others can get their burger and french fry fix. All entrees come with delectable Cayman fried bread (beignet fritters). 

For a huge Cayman feast, sign up for an island tour with Joe Tourist and ask him to take you by Over the Edge for the special Cayman platter you can only get on his tours. You won't regret it.

We hope you enjoy trying local dishes as these restaurants. Have any additional tips? Share them with us in the comments. And if you'd like to learn how to cook like a local check out the Traditional Cooking Classes that the National Trust has been sponsoring each month at the Mission House. The next class is July 6th, and they'll be teaching attendees how to make Custard-Top Cornbread. Yum!

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Cayman may be small, but it has its stars. While touring the island with Joe Tourist on a recent trip, I had the delightful surprise of rubbing shoulders with two Cayman legends: Barefoot Man & Cayman Cowboy. It doesn't get much better! 

These two troubadours have been on the Cayman scene for decades now and know how to get the party started. Both men are applauded musicians with large followings, and neither are a stranger to dazzling a crowd.

Barefoot Man, aka "Barefoot," started playing gigs in Cayman in 1972 when, to his recollection, the island had, "three cab drivers, four police officers, four hotels, no radio, no TV, no cinema." He says the place was perfect for a "beachcomber." Barefoot was born in Germany, moved to the States as a wee one and ended up island hopping in the Caribbean as an adult before finding his destined home and stardom in the Cayman Islands.

In his bio written by Harvey Hagman of the Washington Times (Yes *the* Washington Times!—Wowza!), Barefoot describes his music like "an island drink concoction: a mixture of calypso with a bit of reggae and soca, garnished with a little country and plenty of humor...put it in a blender and you dance to the beat."

Barefoot (George Nowak) and Cayman Cowboy (Andy Martin) met in the early 70s. Barefoot recalls, "I heard him sing country one night. He was amazing." And from there he started writing songs for Andy.   

Andy hails from Cayman Brac and has a country–island vibe about his music, hence "The Cayman Cowboy."

Perhaps the sweetest thing to discover was how long their friendship has spanned (and to have the serendipitous honor of being among friends of such longevity—it's rare you know!). The two recorded Barefoot & Andy on vinyl together in the late 70s. Take a dive back and listen to the soul chilling vibes on this album below.



Barefoot still jams weekly on the island. Catch his schedule here. Being in a Barefoot crowd is definitely an unforgettable and entertaining adventure.

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Nadia Hardie is a natural leader, and I don't just say that because she is the leader of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. She is indeed the Executive Director, but when I first met her last fall at the National Trust, I was enamored by both her professionalism and charismatic personality. Nadia is definitely the kind of person I'd want to follow! 

She's a self proclaimed "Cayman Coconut," with a fascinating cultural background like so many others in Cayman. Although a world traveler practically from birth, Cayman has earned the beloved title of "home" for Nadia. She was born in Trinidad to a Welsh father and Austrian mother. She spent a brief time in the Bahamas as a baby, but lived most of her first eleven years in Switzerland. Then the family returned to the Caribbean, making Cayman their home in 1985—wow, can you imagine a lifetime of travel in just your first decade of life? And that was just the start for Nadia. After her family moved to Cayman she was back and forth between the Caribbean and London, where she attended boarding school and university.

Nadia remembers her summer holidays in Cayman with fondness. She grew up in a Cayman of about 20,000 people, where everyone knew everyone and it was safe to hitch a ride home from anyone driving by. She spent her summers walking from her house on South Church Street to the Holiday Inn on Seven Mile Beach. Without smartphones and social media to plan meetups, the beach at the Holiday Inn served as the local meetup and place socialize. "You knew if you went there everybody would be there."

After university Nadia spent a little over a decade working in London, and of course visiting her family in Cayman when she could. She felt a special yearning to return home to be with her family, so she took some time to backpack around the world and then settled back at home in Cayman in 2002. 

Nadia has a wide range of experience working in both of the major industries in Cayman: tourism and finance. She spent 10 years working in sales at different hotels across the island and another 6 years working for businesses like Deloitte in financial services. When asked about her current role at the National Trust, she says it's a dream come true. She gets to use the skills she's acquired in business over the years to help protect historic and environmental places of significance in the Cayman Islands. Taking care of her homeland is a mission that is near and dear to her heart. It's easy to see how much she loves this place when you talk to her about the work of the Trust.

In Nadia's own words, "Cayman is a lovely place to grow up," and now she and her husband, Damon, have the gift of raising their two girls, Sasha and Mia, here. Damon, originally from New Zealand, came to Georgetown to visit a friend and celebrate the new millennium in December of 1999 and never went back home. He got a job offer and phoned home that he was staying in the Caribbean. Shortly after, he and Nadia met and the rest is history.

When she's not working to protect Cayman, Nadia loves spending time with her family. They're an active family that love boating and the sports life. Nadia herself was a huge football (soccer) player and a "massive field hockey person." Now she laughs that her sport is driving her kids around from sport to sport. One daughter is a squash champion and the other is an excellent football player. "I encourage them to be as active as possible," Nadia adds. The family loves taking holiday vacations to New Zealand during their winter to ski and to the North Carolina mountains for a different landscape experience. She adds, "When we live here why would we go on a summer holiday? We have the best beaches right here."

We talk some more and Nadia tells me all about the work of The National Trust (perhaps enough for an entire blog post—hint hint—one that might be coming soon to a blog near you soon). ;) She also tells me about her furry love, Maisy, a Shih Tzu who's like her 3rd child and an absolute sweetheart. She starts to recommend local restaurants I should try: Vivine's on the East End, Singh's Roti in Georgetown, Champion House II (where you might meet Shelly), Vivo for the vegan hearted, and Alfresco's to dine on the beach. She leaves me with a book recommendation as well, for Don't Stop the Carnival. She says it's a hilarious comedy about escaping a mid-life crisis in the Caribbean. Maybe just the book to read next time you're on the beach! (Catch these tips to make that reading experience even better.)

Stay tuned for more from Nadia and The National Trust for the Cayman Islands as we share a post about all the great work the Trust is doing next month.
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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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I was so excited when I first heard about the "Explorer Passport" created by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.  I've been visiting Cayman for about 5 years, and was surprised to discover that I'd been to less than half of the places included in the passport. There are some points of interest that I hadn't even heard of which goes to show there is always something new to discover on this island.

The passport is an awesome activity booklet that the National Trust created to promote the cultural, historical and natural wonders of the island. It has 39 points of interest inside and comes with a poster-map and stickers to place on each location as you visit them.

The booklet describes the significance of each attraction and has extra tips for things to do, try or look for at each place. You'll find yourself eager to go to each spot so you can proudly put another sticker on your map. Kids will love the stickers and fun activities, and adults—you will love developing a deep sense of connection to the island as you learn more about what makes it so special; and who are we kidding, you will love the stickers, too!

The fun doesn't stop with the stickers and the map either. There are extra tips in the booklet which are presented as 3 things to check off at every place. The tips give even more reason to visit each attraction and made me want to revisit most of the places I had already been so I could experience something I missed the first time. For instance, one of the points of interest is Boggy Sand Road; the book explains that the street is lined with historic homes and the extra tips ask if you've seen:

  • Gingerbread fretwork (each district was known for its unique style)
  • Zinc roofs and expansive verandas
  • Traditional sand yards trimmed with conch shells

Although I've been to this sweet street before, I didn't know to look for these things that are culturally significant to the island. It made me want to go back and check off each item and read more about the traditional architecture in Cayman. 

The map even includes some culturally important places that few locals know about. While I was taking pictures of Miss Lassie's House, another place in the passport, a jogger approached on what seemed like her daily route. She saw me taking photos of the house and then saw the house. She stopped, pulled out her phone and took a couple of snapshots of the place saying she had never noticed it before. It's amazing what you miss when you're not looking for something.

There's so much joy in the "hunt," and taking your passport along on an island road-trip makes for easy exploring. A lot of the attractions are free and you can drive up to several of them anytime (even on Sundays when many island shops and attractions are closed).

So grab the passport and hit the road for some adventure. I suggest taking the day as it comes. Just pick a place on the map and go! Since some of the attractions are "off the beaten path" you'll discover a lot of things along the way, too. For instance, my husband and I found Dart Park by The National Trust—one of the stops on the map. At Dart Park you'll find super cool trees, an iron-shore full of fossils and little hermit crabs. It wasn't on the map, but we wouldn't have discovered it if we hadn't pulled in to see the Trust. We also happened upon a stretch of highway that followed the southern coastline just past Miss Lassie's House. Somehow in the five years I'd been frequenting Cayman we always bypassed that stretch of coastal highway and it was really pretty. I was so glad we found it.

Some of my favorite spots on the map have been Spotts Beach (for the sea turtles!), Crystal Caves and Heritage Beach. Honestly, I've enjoyed visiting them all, but I don't want to spoil any more of the fun for you.

Pick up your very own "Explorer Passport" at the National Trust and start discovering Cayman like never before. The packet only costs $10 KYD, and you'll have a blast checking off each location. Enjoy, and let us know when you've checked off all 39!

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What is Caymanite?

I recently discovered that Cayman has it’s very own semi-precious rock, Caymanite! I’m so excited to share more about this indigenous rock, and how all of you that love Cayman as much as I do can find a piece of it to take home with you.

Caymanite is only found in the Cayman Islands, and local artisans use the rock to make beautiful jewelry and special gifts. According to Pure Art Gallery & Gifts, a whimsical gift shop on South Church Street, Caymanite can be found in the higher regions of both Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

In its natural form Caymanite looks like a slate-like rock and can come in earth tones of brown, grey, red and white. Layers of these colors throughout the rock help identify this unique commodity. When cut and polished for jewelry the colors and layers are brilliantly displayed.

You can find Caymanite jewelry at the Craft Market, National Museum Gift Shop and several shops in Georgetown, but my favorite place to shop for Caymanite is at Pure Art Gallery & Gifts. They have a massive collection of not only jewelry made from Caymanite but gifts, too, including crosses, business card holders, stingray figurines and more. And if you’d prefer to have a piece in its natural form, they have small rocks for sale at the shop, as well.

I picked up a beaded Caymanite bracelet from Pure Art on my last trip to the island. The earthy colors stack really well with other bracelets. I usually add a bright coral beaded bracelet to play off of the natural colors of the Caymanite and sometimes a small leather cuff to create a fun indie mix. What I love most about the bracelet, though, is that I feel a special connection to the islands when I’m wearing it. It truly is the most authentic reminder I have of my home-away-from-home.

bracelet on wrist in front of the ocean and pure art sign

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Allow us to introduce you to Caymanian native, Gilbert Nicoletta or “Gil” as most people know him on island.

Gil owns Joe Tourist Outdoor Adventures, an awesome company that offers eco and cultural tours of Grand Cayman and day trips to Little Cayman. The company gives guests the ability to customize and personalize their visit to the island, while sampling authentic native food, snorkeling with wild sea turtles, cliff-jumping, exploring local limestone caves and enjoying all the natural wonders of the rustic Eastern Districts.

A media professional and entrepreneur with almost 35 years experience in print journalism, television and radio, Gil has written and reported extensively on entertainment, politics, personalities, culture/travel, business and a myriad of lifestyle and hard news topics. He got his start in journalism at age 17 working with the Cayman Nor'wester magazine and then later for The Cayman Compass daily newspaper as a reporter and photographer. Gil moved to New York City in 1983, where he worked as a freelance journalist for 10 years. Cayman called him back home in 1994, where he did a little bit of everything media wise. Gil says his journalism background allows him to provide guests on his tours, with unparalleled exposure to the historical and cultural landscape of the Cayman Islands.

While talking to Gil we also discovered that he’s a passionate motorcycle adventurer. In fact, he’s taken his motorcycles across all 50 US States. He’s also ridden 24 of the 28 EU countries and last year, he rode for three months in Canada, visiting all the provinces, except Manitoba and Newfoundland.

With his love for adventure and authentic experiences, we had to ask Gil to share a few of Cayman’s best kept secrets with us, too. For old-school Caymanian ambiance he recommends Al Frescos in West Bay. To “get a phenomenal sunset in the east” he suggests heading to South Coast Bar and Restaurant in Breakers. And of course he recommends taking a tour with Joe Tourist Outdoor Adventures. The day trip to Little Cayman features a three-course meal, a boat trip to the deserted cay of Owen Island and snorkeling on Bloody Bay Wall—all of which will give you a fabulous introduction to one of our beloved Sister Islands.

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