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Blog Home > Archive (February, 2020)

Andre Gooden has spent his whole life in Grand Cayman. In his lifetime, he’s watched his island develop from a rural, quiet island to a bustling tourist destination that’s visited by millions of people each year.

“It was a good experience because you got the best of both worlds: the simple island life and the fast-paced city life,” Andre said.

Growing up, Andre said he never knew how to answer the age-old question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” He went to school, did what he was supposed to do, and found jobs that helped make ends meet. Eventually, he ended up working as an engineer for one of the island’s telecom companies. He liked the job for the most part—he made good money and was good at the job.

However, those feelings of not really knowing what he wanted to do lingered. He felt his life was missing that inner peace. After seven years at the telecoms company, he decided it was time to do something new, so he quit his job determined to find his passion.

Andre began dabbling in light subsistence farming by growing an assortment of vegetables like carrots and cabbage in his yard. He liked working with his hands and the satisfaction of watching his crops grow. This was the “new” he’d been looking for—he’d found his peace.

After doing a little bit of internet searching, Andre invested more time and energy into his garden eventually turning it into a small farm. He knew he could turn it into a business and in only six months, after a lot of hard work and social media advertising, Charlito’s Greenhouse was born.

At first, Charlito’s Greenhouse was only able to provide produce to a few people at a time, but Andre wasn’t going to stop there. While he didn’t have nearly enough to supply stores, his crop quickly outgrew his space so he moved to West Bay to get more. With more space came more crops like broccoli, peppers, kale, and a variety of fruits (his favorite things to grow).

Over the next couple of years, Charlito’s Greenhouse grew and Andre diversified his crop selection. With new crops came new challenges and Andre realized he needed structures to grow and store new plants. Never one to back down from a challenge, he taught himself carpentry and built his own greenhouses. He found a natural talent in woodworking, and his work quickly gained attention.

Today, Andre’s custom carpentry is the most popular part of his business (it’s what attracted us to him!), and he spends most of his time building custom decks, greenhouses, garden beds, and sheds. While his first love will always be the farm, he says the carpentry gives him a sense of satisfaction different than that of the plants.

“Plants will do exactly what they’re supposed to do and you know exactly what you’ll get,” Andre said. “With the carpentry and woodwork you can create something no one has ever seen, something new...it comes from your own experiences.”

In many ways, Andre is changing the landscape of food production on Grand Cayman. When he came on the scene a few years ago, commercial farming in Grand Cayman was virtually non-existent and many locals hadn’t adopted their own farming practices. For years, Caymanians have relied on imports from South America or the United States for food, but Andre wants to change that.

Almost as soon as his business was blooming, Andre was in the local schools teaching children about farming. He teaches the basics, giving the kids a chance to dig in the dirt, plant their seeds, and watch the fruits of their labor grow. He hopes this will help kids realize just how easy farming on their island is and eventually help the island become less dependent on outside imports.

“It’s about showing people what we can do on our own,” Andre said.


If you’re interested in learning more about Andre and Charlito’s Greenhouse, you can visit him on Facebook or check out his Instagram.

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If you’re vegan (or even vegetarian), you know how hard it can sometimes be to find restaurants that cater to your needs. At Christopher Columbus Condos, we want your vacation in Grand Cayman to be about relaxing and enjoying the sunshine, not about struggling to find a place to eat. To help you out, we created this guide of some of our favorite restaurants and cafes that offer vegan menu items:

Vivo

You don’t have to go far to enjoy vegan meals at this cafe—it’s only five minutes from Christopher Columbus Condos! Vivo offers delicious meals made from locally-grown ingredients and gorgeous views of the sea.

While not everything on the menu is vegan, most dishes can be prepared to accommodate any dietary restrictions.

Some of their vegan options include vegan omelets, chick-veg parmigiana, and vegan curry.

I visited for breakfast on my last trip and I am still thinking about the fresh orange juice and French Toast (made from spiced rum-infused coconut milk, cinnamon, and vanilla). To make the experience even more memorable, I was visited by a tiny green gecko who was quite interested in my blackberry compote—it was too good not to share. ;)

The Greenhouse

Located on Church Street in George Town, The Greenhouse is the perfect place to stop in for a quick pick-me-up. They have an exclusive menu with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. I suggest trying the strawberry banana smoothie with coconut water—it’s one of the best smoothies I’ve ever had!

Ristorante Papagaillo

If you’re looking for a truly unique dining experience with vegan dishes, Ristorante Papagaillo is the perfect place for you. While their vegan menu is small, they offer a number of vegetarian items that can be made vegan. I had the Fusilli Primavera, a savory pasta dish full of fresh veggies and tossed with a rich vegan sauce that was to die for.

What really makes Papagaillo so special is the environment. Situated on a saltwater lagoon at the edge of Barker’s National Park, Papagaillo’s unique structure is constructed of bamboo and other woods and features a stunning thatch roof. When you enter the restaurant you are greeted by its longest-serving team member—Humphrey Bogart, an African Gray Parrot. The main dining room offers dinner and a special attraction, with massive windows looking into the habitats of different parrots, macaws, and cockatoos. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind place.

Bread and Chocolate

Located in the heart of George Town, Bread and Chocolate is 100 percent vegan, 100 percent of the time. Bread and Chocolate is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and, much like Vivo offers a selection of dishes you can feel good about. Some of their menu items include the “Impossible Burger,” vegan shepherd’s pie, porkless sliders made from barbeque jackfruit, tacos, and waffles. Bread and Chocolate is one of the best places to enjoy a delicious meal that is sure to meet your dietary needs.

Tukka

Visiting the East End for a day? Tukka is the place for a great vegan meal. This seaside restaurant features Australian cuisine with a Caribbean flair that respects dietary needs. Their vegetarian menu offers a variety of dishes that can be prepared vegan or gluten-free. Enjoy your meal with a side of breathtaking sea views and a specialty drink.

Casa 43 Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar

Casa 43 is one of our favorite places to visit. With more than 80 different tequilas at their tequila bar, a friendly staff, and delicious food, it’s one of the most happening hidden places on the island. Much like other restaurants we’ve featured here, you have to ask for the vegan options, but they do have some tasty vegan options nonetheless. Make sure you say hello to our friend Max while you’re there :)


Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just looking for something new, you have plenty of opportunities to enjoy delicious cuisine that fits your lifestyle in Grand Cayman. Know of a place with vegetarian or vegan menu items we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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Twenty years ago, Aaron Hunt wouldn’t have seen himself where he is now. Today he serves as an unlikely hero to some of the Cayman Islands’ most vulnerable animal species: coral. With a love of the sea and a lifetime of lessons under his belt, he is the founder of Eco Divers, a not-for-profit dive shop with a mission to reinvigorate the coral population.

We were recently able to sit down and chat with Aaron about his life and how he and Eco Divers are paving a new way for coral sustainability. 

Color Me Coral

Aaron grew up and spent much of his life in Sacramento, California, thousands of miles from any type of coral reef. He served in the Army from 1993 to 2001 as an M1A1 tank commander. After retiring from the military life, he studied computers in college, and eventually became a computer specialist and network systems administrator for a series of small businesses around the Sacramento area.

It was during this time that Aaron developed a fascination for coral—some might even call it an obsession. He built his own 500-gallon coral propagation system in his home. He lived with a beautiful, albeit small, coral reef in his living room, but he wanted to get even closer to the animals he had grown to love so much. The best way to do that? Scuba diving.

In 2006, Aaron took up scuba diving and began working as a part-time divemaster helping instructors teach classes at a local Sports Chalet, which is a sporting goods store found only in parts of the Western United States that went out of business a few years ago. (I took dive lessons at a Sports Chalet in Las Vegas when I was a kid.) Aaron watched the students he taught travel to exotic places for dive trips, and he wanted to do the same.

If you couldn’t tell already, Aaron isn’t the kind of guy to go halfway on anything. When he loves something—like the military, computers, or coral—he goes all in. His work with scuba wasn’t going to be any different. Not only did he want to travel to exotic places, he wanted to move to an exotic place, dive for a living, and work with coral.

“So I read every one of our travel guides,” Aaron said. “I knew I wanted to stay in the Caribbean, but one book seemed different than the others. It spoke of friendly people and quality of life, rich history of scuba, and a prosperous community.”

Where was this amazing place? You guessed it: Grand Cayman.

The Eco Divers Story

In 2009, Aaron made his move to Grand Cayman and began his new life. He became a dive instructor, able to teach classes on his own, and trained as a captain, all while remembering his love for coral.

In 2014, Aaron founded Eco Divers. Not your typical dive exploration group, Eco Divers is focused on “diving with a mission” to help the coral reefs around Grand Cayman.

Coral reefs are believed to be some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and the reefs around the Cayman Islands are no different. Coral reefs are home to hundreds of species of coral and other animals and are vulnerable to disease, bleaching, increases in ocean temperatures, and other threats. As a result, reefs in the Caribbean are suffering and a significant number of them are dying or already dead.

This is where the Eco Divers Reef Foundation team comes in. Over the past few years, they have been building spawning structures around Grand Cayman that help grow new coral species. These corals are then transplanted to existing reefs where they thrive and help redevelop the ecosystem.

The best part is: they’ve seen success—90 percent of their coral are surviving.

“In two years, we have seen an increase in coral abundance from three to seven every half kilometer to finding two hundred to two hundred and fifty,” Aaron said.

Get Involved

Anyone interested in helping the Eco Divers mission can do so when they visit Grand Cayman. They offer opportunities for individuals to see the coral spawn structures no matter what level of diver you are.

Beginners can participate in the Discovery Coral Diving program, a short lecture, and class that leads groups straight to one of the nursery sites. For more experienced divers, PADI offers a Coral Reef Renewal Distinctive Specialty course that is offered through Eco Divers. This enrolls divers in their volunteer effort and opens up new experiences for those wanting to help sustainable coral restoration.

If diving isn’t your thing, Eco Divers hosts fundraising events on a regular basis including pub quiz events.

Serving Others

Aaron Hunt has used his unique skills as a former soldier and network administrator to create a successful coral management foundation in Grand Cayman. In addition to helping the reefs, he is using his skills to give back to the community in other ways. Eco Divers is an active member of the Inspire Cayman project with a mission to help young Caymanians become leaders in Cayman’s dive industry.

“My experiences in the military, explaining computers to frustrated customers, growing and managing corals, and then working as an instructor have all formed into this unexpected, timely series of skills,” Aaron said. “I am truly blessed to live today with my lifetime of experiences. Instead, I get to apply all of these seemingly unconnected skills together and use them to return vitality to coral populations.”

If you’re interested in going on an Eco Divers dive exploration, visit their website, www.caymanecodivers.com or give them a call at 345-938-4904.

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The Cayman Islands have over a millennium of rich history, but most of the islands' history with humans began less than 400 years ago. In that time, Grand Cayman has gone from a remote island jungle to a busy stop for pirates and other seafarers to a bustling tourist destination.

Today, Grand Cayman is known for beautiful beaches, Caymankindness, and stunning sunsets, but the island is also home to a vibrant and bustling arts scene—the home of which is at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. 

Since 1996, the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands (NGCI) has been the cultural hub of the Cayman Islands with a mission to promote the appreciation and practice of the visual arts. For over two decades, NGCI has been following this mission by providing exhibitions featuring art pieces by Caymanian artists from throughout Cayman’s history, representing and serving all three islands.

The National Collection and Other Exhibits

One of the main and semi-permanent exhibitions at NGCI is the National Collection, a collection of pieces that are considered crucial for the preservation of Cayman’s cultural history. The collection features a variety of media that illustrate how artists have captured life in the Cayman Islands over the last four decades. The collection rotates, meaning only 40 percent of it is on display at any given time, so there is something new to see every time you visit.  

 

Every year, NGCI also features 10 temporary exhibits in their main exhibit space on Grand Cayman and other satellite exhibits around the three islands. The Gallery currently features several pieces by iconic local artist Gladwyn “Miss Lassie” Bush and Bendel Hydes, the founder of modern art in Cayman.


A few of the staff’s favorite pieces among the more permanent works include 3 a Lick, No Taws (Ode to Milo Series) created in 1999 by artist Wray Banker, a pop art-inspired piece exploring identity and heritage through a can of Milo; and Amen, 2019, by Randy Chollette, a reimagining of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam through the lens of his Rastafarian faith. 

The Gallery also features a sculpture garden, the labyrinth, and an art studio that serves as the home for education programs.

What the National Gallery Means For Cayman

Since its founding, the National Gallery has been dedicated to serving as a place to discuss art, history, identity, and heritage. It serves as a place where Caymanians young and old, tourists and newcomers, can come to relish in the history of the islands we love so dearly.

“The art that we care for tells an essential story about Cayman, from its very beginnings to its hopes for the future,” says Camille de Marchenna, NGCI arts administrator.

Camille says 2020 will be full of exciting new exhibitions, including "Island of Women" in the first part of the year. This exhibit charts the contribution of women to the development of Cayman. Other exhibits throughout the year will feature a variety of media from photography to ceramics.

Visit NGCI

Whether you're interested in learning more about Cayman's culture, interested in art, or looking for a place to spend a rainy day out, be sure to put the National Gallery on your next vacation to-do list. The main gallery is located on Esterly Tibbetts Highway, just a short drive from Christopher Columbus Condos. You can visit Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free every day. 

For more information about featured exhibits, educational programs, and other gallery events, follow them on Facebook or visit their website.

*We would like to thank the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands for submitting the feature image used in this article. 

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