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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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One of my favorite things about visiting Cayman is the instant change of pace I feel as soon as I arrive. The moment I step off the plane, I feel calmed and welcomed by everything—the breeze, the scent of the ocean, and, of course, the people. The last time I visited, I didn’t even have to get off the plane to be welcomed by one of Cayman’s colorful residents.

I met Marc Thomas on my flight, and he started chatting with me as though I were an old friend. He told me everything I could have ever needed to know about his life, his kids, and his love for the island we were flying to. Initially, I was a little caught off guard by how friendly and open Marc was—I fly pretty frequently, and I don't always end up having in-depth conversations with my seat-mates. However, after chatting with him for just a few minutes, I couldn't wait to hear more of his story, so I asked him to lunch. We met up a few days later and became fast friends even though we’d only known each other for a few days.

Marc shared with me that he’s originally from London and first came to Grand Cayman in 1988 when he was visiting a friend he met while at university.

Immediately, he fell in love with the island’s beauty and easy pace.

“As soon as I stepped off the plane, I thought, ‘This is it,’” Marc told me.

He visited a few times after that, and in 1990, he moved to the island permanently.

When Marc first moved here, there was a population somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000, and Grand Cayman was a much different place. The island was relatively rural with no cinema, only a few restaurants, and limited services—in fact, services were so limited, it took six weeks to get the telephone installed in Marc’s first apartment! But he didn’t mind the delay; he was on island time now.

During his nearly 30 years on the island, Marc has lived quite the life. He’s a father of three, an avid scuba diver, and a world traveler, having visited about 40 or 50 countries! He also has an unexpected passion: theater.

Theater is a passion Marc discovered by accident. As he tells it, he experienced a mid-life crisis around age 50, and, while most guys would have fulfilled that with a fancy new sports car, Marc wanted a new hobby. Between his office and his home was the Prospect Theatre, which was advertising the first rehearsal for the annual Christmas show. He decided to drop in for a look and somehow ended up in the show. He’s been a part of the Cayman Drama Society ever since, and has been cast in plays like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Barefoot in the Park.

Even though it started with an impromptu audition, Marc says the theater has changed his life and given him more than something to do in his free time—it’s given him a community.

In 2017, Marc’s wife passed away, and his theater family was there to provide the support he and his family needed. What surprised Marc even more was the overwhelming support he and his family received from what felt like the entire island of Grand Cayman. People he didn’t even know were showing up at his door with food for his family and offering to assist in any way they could.

“You’d find it difficult to find somewhere more wholesome and friendly than here,” he said.

I can’t help but agree.

Seeing Marc perform is on the top of my list for my next trip to Cayman. Luckily, the Cayman Drama Society puts on a number of plays and musicals throughout the year, and the Prospect Playhouse is only 17 minutes away from CCC. Marc also suggests making a trip to The National Gallery, home to an array of beautiful art exhibits that allow visitors to immerse themselves in Cayman expression.

If you're an art lover, be sure to add both of these to your "must visit" list next time you're on island—you might even spot Marc on stage! 

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It’s no surprise that Grand Cayman offers many water-based sporting activities for anyone looking to have an ocean adventure. However, for repeat guest Susan Corbitt and her husband, paddle boarding is so much more than a sport. It has served as a source of tranquility, and it can for you, too. (Several rental companies will even deliver paddle boards to Christopher Columbus Condos for your ultimate convenience.)

We chatted with Susan about her experience paddle boarding during her last visit to CCC and exactly what makes it so special. Keep reading to learn more.

Question: What were your expectations of paddle boarding before you ever stepped foot on a board?

Susan Corbitt: Just to have fun! I also wanted to go out farther in the ocean than I could just by swimming.

Q: How long did it take to get used to the paddle board/to stand up?

SC: Not long at all. I was standing up within the first 5 minutes. (See our tips for first-timers at the end of this post if you're not as lucky as Susan—we don't all get up on the first try. 😉)

Q: What kind of sights did you see while out on the water?

SC: We got to swim with a school of fish like we were a part of them. We also saw coral, and a tiny shark!

Q: What is the best difference between traveling in a boat versus a paddle board?

SC: You are more like a part of the water, closer to and in it. The water would splash in my face and I loved that!

Q: What makes paddleboarding such a unique experience for you?

SC:The tranquility of it, it’s such a peaceful and relaxing experience. Paddleboarding gives me a calm and ability to appreciate all of God’s creation.On the last day we had our boards, we went out into the water right before sunset and it was perfect.

Q: Do you have any tips for others who want to try paddleboarding?

SC: Do it! Don't be afraid to stand up. Be aware that the further you are from shore the waters become rougher.

Other tips for beginners:

1. Be sure to check the weather and wind conditions.
2. Make sure the board's fin is deep enough underwater that it doesn't touch the ground once you put your weight on it. 
3. Stand with your feet, hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and back straight.
4. Keep your eyes on the horizon for best stability.
5. Keep your paddle in a vertical orientation, using your core muscles to propel yourself, not just your arms. For a more detailed explanation of paddling technique, check out this helpful video

Susan's paddle boards were rented and delivered to Christopher Columbus Condos from Paradise Paddle. Each rental includes a paddle board, paddle, leash, life vest and a crash-course lesson (if you want one), making it an excellent option for a first-timer. Paradise Paddle offers a variety of other items like kayaks and snorkel gear, as well, if you want to go all out on your next ocean adventure!

Did we miss any must-know tips for beginning paddleboarders? Let us know your paddleboarding secrets in the comments below! 
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While many of you already know and love her, we’re so happy to tell you more about our very own “moviestar,” Patricia!

Patricia has been with Christopher Columbus since 2007 and has lived in Cayman for over 20 years. Originally from Jamaica, Patricia visited her sister here years ago and fell in love with with the island. She says her favorite part about Cayman is two-pronged—the people and the beaches, and even better is getting to meet new people on the beach! Her love of the beach also extends to her recommendations for guests—she says the number one thing every visitor should do is just kick back, relax, and take in the beautiful Seven Mile Beach. Once you’ve gotten in some vitamin sea, then you should check out the Turtle Farm.

As our regulars can attest, Patricia is a fantastic ambassador for the condos. She loves to take care of guests, always making sure everyone feels like they’re coming home when they arrive at CCC. “Making things nice for our guests,” she says, “that’s me, that’s who I am.” She recounted one memorable experience, when she helped a guest who was getting married on the beach. Patricia saw that nothing had been decorated yet, so she decided to help out to make sure everything was done well and in time for the ceremony. When the guest saw the decorations in the gazebo, she exclaimed, “Oh, our decorator did a great job!” Patricia, who didn’t know a different decorator was coming, told the bride-to-be that she’d actually put up all the decorations. Surprised but thrilled, the guest said she would have to tell other brides to just have Patricia handle the decorating because she did such a fantastic job!

For fun, Patrica loves to swim in the ocean with her German Shepherd, Bogie, and dance the night away. While reggae and salsa music are some of her favorites, she isn’t picky when it comes to dance music—she'll dance to anything and with anyone who wants to join in. She says she loves to dress up and enjoy all that Cayman nightlife has to offer. In order to fuel up for all that dancing, she enjoys stopping by her favorite restaurant, Catch, for some crab legs or other seafood. From the food to the atmosphere to the ocean views, Patricia says Catch is “amazing.” (You can read more about the owner of Catch here.)

In case you were wondering, Patricia’s “moviestar” nickname comes from her featured role in our Christopher Columbus Condos video (which you can watch here!), plus her fabulous and vivacious personality. If you ask nicely, she will no doubt give you an autograph!

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If rifling through ornaments and early present shopping haven't gotten you in the Christmas spirit yet, check out this year's Christmas Spectacular concert! The Cayman National Orchestra and Choir will present the evening's festivities on December 10 at 7:30 PM at the Harquail Theatre. The concert will also feature performances from the Cayman Youth Choir, The Stingrays acapella vocal group, vocal soloist Mikayla Corin, and a special guest, tenor Rory Baugh from Jamaica. 

You can purchase Christmas Spectacular tickets online here—the cost is $25 for adults and $10 for children. 

Founded fifteen years ago by Sue Horrocks, the Cayman National Orchestra is comprised of forty musicians from all walks of life. Horrocks not only serves as Executive Director and a flutist for the orchestra but she’s also the Musical Director of the Cayman National Choir. 

 violinistsWith the choir celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, the orchestra is a relative newcomer to the Cayman arts scene but is quickly growing in popularity and demand beyond its “hidden gem” reputation. Musicians gather once a week to rehearse for their upcoming appearances. Their performance calendar is expanding to include special events like “Sounds of the Sea,” an outdoor concert at the Grand Old House in honor of Pirates Week that featured songs with a nautical theme. Tunes from films like Pirates of the Caribbean and scores by John Williams were big crowd hits as guests enjoyed the performance with dinner by the sea.  

Conductor Jonathan TaylorThe orchestra is currently under the direction of conductor Jonathan Taylor, who is looking forward to “presenting so much wonderful and eclectic, high-quality music to entertain our audience” at the Christmas Spectacular. ”I know they're going to love it!” Taylor comes to the orchestra by way of the United Kingdom and has found a home on the island—he says Cayman is “such a rich community of amazing people and musical opportunity.” 

Christmas music lovers are sure to rejoice as the Christmas Spectacular setlist has a little something for everyone. Tunes will range from classic titles like “White Christmas,” “I’ll be Home For Christmas,” and “Carol of the Bells” to upbeat numbers like “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” songs made popular by Pentatonix, as well as Broadway favorites, a bit of jazz, a bit of pop, and even a Renaissance chart or two. It’s certain to be a lively evening of good cheer, toe tapping, and crowd-pleasing performances that will send folks home humming tunes for days to come. 

If you miss the Christmas Spectacular, you can catch the orchestra’s carol concerts at the George Town Elmslie Church on December 12 and 14. To keep up with the orchestra’s upcoming performance schedule, be sure to follow them on Facebook
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Meet Cayman native and entrepreneur, Emile Levy. His love for the island and preservation gave him the idea for the ultimate environmentally-friendly bag: Siggy Bags. The bags are made of recycled animal feed packages, and quickly became popular with Caymanians and tourists alike! The bags are very sturdy and versatile, and they are very reasonably priced at $12 CI for the most expensive bag.

Emile is no stranger to owning his own business; running Cayman Islands Native Fun Tours for 15 years. So, it’s not surprising that they have now sold over 5,000 bags and even started making other items like aprons and raincoats. Along with new merchandise, Siggy Bags also has it's first designated spot on the beach in George Town!

If you're interested in getting your own Siggy Bag, give Emile a call at (345) 928-0560.

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Christopher Columbus Condos is lucky to have a close community of owners, staff and returning guests. So when one of our own has something he or she is willing to share, we love to share it with this community and newbies alike.

Seven Mile Beach sceneRussell (Rusty) Bloodworth, a longtime owner and friend of the CCC community, recently shared a few watercolors that he's painted throughout his years in Cayman. The talent, emotion and human spirit that is so eloquently displayed in each is touching. 

My favorite is the painting of the late Captain Marvin featured above. Captain Marvin Ebanks pretty much started the chartered boating business in Grand Cayman and went on to found Captain Marvin's Watersports, a very successful tour operation still doing business in Cayman today.

Rusty and his family went on their first excursion with Captain Marvin in 1981, and over the years they formed a very close relationship with the Captain. The Captain used to take them out to dive for conch, out to Stingray City (which wasn't even named that then), and then he would proceed to the North Sound reef to spear fish with his helper. Captain Marvin made an experience of it by shelling and marinating conch (pictured in the watercolor) and then he'd take his groups to Rum Point where he cooked the fish on an open fire at the beach for all to enjoy a terrific meal. He was a wonderful man and a Caymanian legend. 

Rusty has been painting Cayman 'en plein air' for over 35 years and has painted a variety of people and places; his latest painting from November 2015 features the fish market in Georgetown. Painting en plein air requires a true commitment to the chosen subject as artists stand for hours to capture the people and places they want to emote on canvas. I think this commitment to place and the human story really shine through in Rusty's paintings. He let me in on a secret that he does have a tiny three-legged stool that helps him from getting too fatigued during his sessions. Nevertheless, as a writer, I can relate to the desire to tell stories, and I think that's done so beautifully in the paintings below. As time passes so do those special moments, and by painting them they get to live on forever really unlike any other form. Some of the houses that Rusty has painted over the years unfortunately no longer exist on the island, so I hope you enjoy these special glimpses of Cayman times over the past 35 years.

blue cayman house watercolor
Cayman Boat Repair
  Fish Market in Georgetown, November 2015
cayman house
  cayman shed

girl hunting for crabs
lady at rum point
  People at hermit crab rock
  boarded up house in west bay
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While the beachfront at Christopher Columbus Condos is private, the immediate shoreline is a public corridor for anyone who wishes to take a stroll along Seven Mile Beach. Since Christopher Columbus Condos is on the northern (quieter) side of Seven Mile Beach there is less pedestrian traffic. During a typical day you may see a handful of pedestrians walk by the beach every couple of hours, and they're usually guests of surrounding condo properties.

the fishermanHowever, during a previous stay, I along with the other guests on the beach had the pleasure of a brief encounter with an enchanting fisherman.

As I saw the man approaching from the north, I could see he was carrying a net and looking out into the ocean. He was barefoot and had a weathered look about him. I remember thinking there was no way this man was going to catch any fish with his bare hands and a simple net. I was fixated on his movement though as he slowly worked his way down the beach and closer to the beachfront that we were relaxing on. I could feel the others begin to pay attention too.

sardinesRight as he reached the CCC beach he whipped out his net and pulled it back in with one swift movement. I perked up in my lounge chair and gasped with glee as I saw him pull in a net full of fish. A couple of the other guests hopped up with excitement and ran to check out the fisherman's catch, so I followed suit with my camera in hand.

fisherman and his sardinesWhen we reached him, we could see that he'd caught a slew of sardines - with one simple toss - I couldn't believe it. He had emptied them from his net onto the sand, and I asked him if I could help him pick them up. He didn't say much, just smiled as he picked them up, and I did too as I started to try to pick them up. I squealed and laughed every time I picked one up and felt it flip and flop, but he let me continue to "help". Some of the other guests were talking with him as I worked on picking up the tiny fish, and I heard them say he had been following the school of fish down the shoreline for a while before he cast his net.

Once he gathered his fish he picked up his net, gazed out on the sea and went on his way. He left as mystically and quickly as he'd come. Amid all the excitement I didn't get a chance to get his name or his story, but I have a feeling he enjoys being a man of mystery. I'll always remember him and the enchanting aura of this brief encounter.

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