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See You Later Alligator…

March 5, 2015

Gator and me

“MOM! MOM!! He is so cute … Can I keep him?”

Going on an airboat on the Florida Everglades has been on my bucket list since I can remember. I’m not sure why I decided gator spotting was going to be on my lifetime ambition list. Maybe I’ve seen Crocodile Dundee one too many times, or maybe it just looks like awesome fun. I’m also not sure why I have never done it. Not only have I been to Florida on vacation numerous times, I actually lived there. TWICE! A big part of choosing to go back to Florida was to finally fulfill this dream I have had since I was a little girl and was terrified of Leatherhead.

I booked an excursion to the Everglade Holiday Park on my first day in Florida. I boarded the bus at my hotel along with twelve senior American couples all decked out in velour jogging suits and visors. Florida appeals to a certain clientele in the Winter. Our guide explained that we were going to the home of the Gator Boys and put on an Animal Planet documentary of the same name. I had never heard of the Gator Boys but it turns out that they are kind of a big deal. These brave men and women respond to calls from local citizens who find gators lurking about their property or swimming in their pools. Most alligator hunters will kill any gators that they find. Not the gator boys, they capture them and release them back into the wild. I was on the edge of my seat watching them capturing 15 foot gators using essentially their bare hands, a bag and some mad skills. Those guys are brave. After living in Florida I am pretty terrified by gators. You are taught that a giant gator could be lurking in any open water source. I was always nervous I would wake up one morning to find one on my night stand floating in my undrunk glass of water. The Gator Boys treat the animals humanely and with respect. Saving gators is obviously not as profitable as killing gators. The Everglade Park is a chance for them to make some money to fund their alligator protection programme.

After arriving at the park we quickly hopped onto our airboat Taz. We had a veteran, knowledgeable guide. He was a ham and I loved his corny jokes that I am sure haven’t changed at all in 50 years. Just like I had dreamed it those airboats cut fast through the water! I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and idyllic the wetlands are. Everything was so peaceful and the water was so blue and still. I almost wanted to jump in and go for a dip. ALMOST! It wasn’t long before we spotted a massive alligator in the distance. Moments later he swam right up to the boat. I got the feeling that these gators were very accustomed to their daily visitors and took turns putting on their terrifying show. I was at the edge of the boat and I could have easily reached out and touched the gator. Obviously I kept my arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times because I love the rules, and I am not a moron. We said good-bye to that gator and the boat wooshed off to find one of his equally massive friends. In total we seen maybe 8 gators. What makes them terrifying to me is not how big they are, but how still. When they swim through the water they don’t even make a splash. They seem like very calculating creatures. Besides from the gators, we seen plenty of birds as well as one completely perfect orchid.

I loved my air boat ride. It was worth the years of waiting and I was thrilled to have another amazing adventure to tick off my bucket list. However, the day war far from over. One of the Gator Boys put on a show in the “Gator Pit”. I held my breath watching this guy not only walk amongst the alligators but get up close and personal with some of them, all while cracking jokes and busting out numerous gator facts. One of his tricks involved putting his head in the gator’s mouth. Ah … my heart was in my mouth. To that guy, you are a legend, I salute you.

The highlight of the excursion came right at the very end of the day. I got the chance to cuddle up to a teeny tiny baby gator. He was just the cutest thing I have ever seen and I seriously wanted to keep him. Surely, he wouldn’t grow that big. I could have loved on him forever. This is possible down to the fact that I am almost 30 and being in the presence of baby anythings make my ovaries sing.

A really, really amazing day and easily the highlight of my Florida break. You can find out all about the Everglades Holiday Park here.

It had been a great trip. Just the break I needed to reset before my big move to Forever Summer Grand Cayman.

Florida Love

March 5, 2015

Fort Lauderdale Boulevard

In between moving islands in the Caymans, I snuck in a quick little trip to Florida. The Sunshine State is my happy place and I needed a fix. It was my usual, spur of the moment trip. The decision was made the day before to go and flights and hotel were booked a few hours in advance. I was torn, but I decided not to head to Orlando again. It had been less than 6 months since my last visit and I wanted to see somewhere new. I didn’t think Miami would be much fun on my own. I had heard great things about Fort Lauderdale and it ticked all my requirements for a mini break … people and shopping and people. After months living on a desert island I needed a dose of the real world.

The flight between Grand Cayman and Miami comes a few times every day, only takes an hour AND you get free rum punch. I got a car service from the airport and it took less than an hour to get to Fort Lauderdale. I spent the whole journey in a rum buzz, my head out of the window, tongue flapping in the wind looking at all the people. Did I mention I had spent the summer on an island with 40 people??!?

I stayed at the Hilton which was … fine. I got upgraded to a suite at check in AND a free warm cookie. My suite was plenty spacious and there was ample parking for my yacht outside. Not much else to say about my stay there. It was pretty blah. I would book somewhere else next time. It was next door to a mall which I ransacked approximately 4 minutes after arriving in town and I was thankful to not have far to lug my purchases and a massive suite to store all my shopping bags.

Fort Lauderdale is beautiful. Lovely beach with a quaint water front boulevard. A hip leafy downtown area with lots of restaurants and cafes and cool people doing generally cool things. I loved taking the water taxi and salivating over all the mansions. Real estate porn at it’s finest. The annual boat show was gearing up and everywhere you looked there were multi-million dollar yachts. I even spotted Marc Cuban’s colossal vessel. Sadly, I did not see Mr. Cuban, “Your a douche. I’m out”. Fort Lauderdale seems like a pretty sweet place to be rich.

The weather was absolute perfection while I was there. It’s Florida. The weather is always perfect. My second visit to the Sunshine State this year and still my favourite place in the World. Plus, I didn’t even miss The Mouse all that much.

Did I mention how much I really REALLY love Florida?

 

 

A Date with Dave on Seven Mile Beach

January 10, 2015

Dave

A Pirate’s Life for Me

January 9, 2015

Shiver me timbers

For years I have dreamed about being kidnapped by pirates and setting off for a new life on the high seas. The damsel in distress act is dangerously outdated. Now I’m the pirate, bitches. Drink up me hearties yoho!

The Cayman Islands has a brilliantly made up festival every year called Pirates Week. I don’t know of any history of pirate activity in the islands so it really is just a good excuse for a really big street party. Everyone gathers in Georgetown dressed up as pirates for an entire week. There are fireworks, live music, beads and lots and lots of drinking. I attended the launch party in my casual pirate look before slipping into my wench outfit which I proceeded to wear for 6 days solid. I was in my element! Being a pirate is my dream job. I can be drunk and threaten people and no one can judge me, it is part of the pirate job description. Tourists would stop me in the street and take pictures with me. Yet somehow, I still didn’t make it into the Cayman Compass. Eurgh … I wenched up for a whole week, what more do I have to do?

I’m sure most of the budget for Pirate’s Week goes into the fireworks. They were beautiful. They even had fireworks that came out of the water. That blows my mind. How? Just how? How do they light them under water?? Regardless, they were spectacular. I also discovered SoCa music or The Soul of Calypso. Apparently I watched some of the World’s most famous SoCa stars. Those songs are relentlessly catchy, feel good music, which are overwhelmingly about celebrating big bottoms. You can not listen to them without shaking your “roly poly”, something which comes pretty naturally to The Artist Formally Known As Little Cayman’s Beyonce.

Is it November yet? I wish it could be Pirate’s Week everyday.

 

Forever Summer on Grand Cayman

January 8, 2015

Seven Mile Beach

Within an hour of arriving in Grand Cayman for the first time I knew I was going to live here.

Grand Cayman has some of the most spectacular beaches in the World, year round glorious weather, a wealth of glamorous bars and restaurants and the streets are paved with sushi. After the near deprivation of life on Little Cayman, everything about Grand Cayman is plentiful to me. It is big enough to give me the anonymity and wealth of experiences I crave, but small enough to have a local town feel. It is very safe. Yes, it is very expensive to live here, but I was lucky enough to land a job here I love. I don’t pay tax, I can take the sting of expensive food and drink. I love that there is always social events going on. It is my dream to land on the society pages of the Cayman Compass, that is when I will know I have truly made it. Life here is very comfortable. I hear people complain that it is not “The Real Caribbean”. I am totally fine with that! If I want “The Real Caribbean”, whatever that means, I will jump on a plane and go to Jamaica or Utila or Havana, because from here I can get to those places in about an hour.

Moving to a new place is hard. Even after more than ten years away from home, I still get terrified about making big moves. I was so ready to leave Little Cayman but that didn’t stop me crying like a baby before I left. Starting a new job, moving to a new place, starting a new routine is hard. Making new friends is difficult, even as an adult, and especially on an island where you don’t know anyone. I love the thrill of it though. Starting over and making a brand new life is exhilarating. A bet a lot of people, if they were honest, would love the chance to pack up and start their life all over again.

In sum, I love Grand Cayman.

Here are some photos of me loving life here.

Goodbye to Little Cayman

January 7, 2015

The dock at Little Cayman

Beautiful, idyllic Little Cayman.

Thank you.

Thank you for being the peaceful retreat I needed. Thank you for being my rehab. Thank you for coming into my life when I needed you most. Thank you for your beach, my sanctuary. Thank you for your water, for washing it all away. Thank you to your islanders who became temporary family. Thank you for your limited cocktail list. Thank you for the tan. Thank you to the iguanas for being my stray cat substitutes and occasional confidantes. Thank you for supporting my decisions. Thank you for the visiting pilots. Thank you for the career guidance. Thank you for the freedom.

Thank you for letting me know when it was time to leave.

 

Cayman January Blues

January 7, 2015

Seven Mile Beach

I’ve Been To Hell and Back

December 21, 2014

Hell even has a gift shop

Billy – “Go to hell!”

Winifred – “Oh! I’ve been there, thank you. I found it quite lovely.”

Grand Cayman’s number one land based tourist attraction has to be Hell, some black lime stone formations of the West side of the island. The name apparently came about because, this one time, someone, said the place looked like hell … and with that stroke of wordsmithery wisdom a new tourist hot spot was created. Slightly ironic that this Hell is located in the hyper religious Cayman Islands. To really appreciate the wonder of the limestone formations you need at least 60 seconds, they are not particularly spectacular. The real genius of hell lies in the fire red gift shop. Dare to walk in the door and you are greeted by the devil himself who has no end of hell-themed knick knacks and puns for his guests. I am pretty sure it was the same devil from the classic party scene from Hocus Pocus and I spent the whole trip in character as a besotted Sarah. The best bit about Hell (those are words I never thought I would say) is that you can send a postcard with a stamp from Hell Post Office.

I loved the touristy, kitsch of Hell. If this is what the real Hell is like, I better start being a bit naughtier!

Tourist Day on Grand Cayman

December 9, 2014

Stingrays at Stingray City Grand Cayman

The one thing all tourists have to do when they come to Grand Cayman is go to Stingray City!

I had a day to spare after my trip to Panama and with no cool locals to hang out with, I decided to disguise myself as a tourist and go on an excursion to Stingray City. Stingray City is a shallow sandbar where dozens of Stingrays live. I got on a boat with 50 other tourists and sailed out to North Sound. I hadn’t seen Grand Cayman by water before. An island like Grand can only really be appreciated from the water. It was a gorgeous, sunny, calm day. I spent the sail window shopping for multi million dollar mansions.

When we got to Stingray City there was a few other boats there, which I had expected. The more the merrier I say! Lots of tourists, means lots of money for Cayman. Obviously the stingrays congregate there because that is where they get fed. Each boat comes ready with a vat of fish for the stingrays. With all the visitors giving them squid all day long I am surprised they are not morbidly obese, dragging themselves around the bottom of the sea. When you get in the water you really are interacting with the stingrays. They swim around you, trying to get food, whipping you with your tail if you happen to be in between them and the food. Some of them are pretty massive. If you hold their food outside of the water, they will jump on top of you to get it. The stringrays really like that squid. There was one particularly docile stingray, let’s call her Betty, who seemed to be the pet of our tour guide. She seemed happy enough giving everyone a kiss and posing for pictures. I gave her a kiss (on the lips, no tongue) and let her get on my back, which didn’t feel altogether unpleasant. The stingrays seem happy enough. They are in the sea, roaming wild. There is nothing keeping them in that spot. If they want to swim off elsewhere they can do. Why would they though? Those stingrays have a complimentary all-you-can-eat buffet every day. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me!

After Stingray City, we had a chance to go on two snorkeling stops. I was pleasantly surprised by how impressive the reef was. The sea was calm and the visibility was perfect that day. I dived off the boat, swam a little bit away from the crowd and found myself face to face with a turtle! He was lazily bobbing around.  I kept out of his way and he didn’t spot me following him around. I really love turtles and it is so good to see them in the wild. It means the conservation efforts are working. Turtles always seem so chilled out, although I’m not sure if I think that because I have watched Finding Nemo 20 times. There was lots of tropical little fishes playing in the second reef we visited. The only bummer of the day was my bust underwater camera. I must invest in a new one because I missed out on some great photos that day. A great excuse to go back!

I love Grand Cayman … Can you tell?

Panama City Tour

November 29, 2014

Panama City Old Town

I really love Panama City. It is a great mix of old and new, chic and shabby. The whole place is just so cool. It has a very European mixed with Latin vibe. In that way it reminded me a lot of San Juan, another great place I had the pleasure to visit this year. It is very much my sort of place. A cool, upcoming cosmopolitan metropolis. Everyone I met was super friendly and welcoming.

Casco Viejo is the historic part of town. Just a short cab ride away from the Hard Rock Hotel but it felt a million miles away from the shiny sky scrapers and traffic of the Financial District.  It is currently under massive renovation, with crumbling shacks next to beautifully restored colonial buildings and picturesque cathedrals. You can tell that piles of money is going in to upgrade the city and I anticipate some great changes. Cool young professionals fill up the areas bars and restaurants. Head to another side of the city and you can see harbors filled with rows and rows of beautiful yachts. A great place for millionaire spotting. The shopping is great too, with insanely low duty-free prices.

I would love to go back to Panama City one day. I want to party in the city, and explore the close by natural wonders.  I could even see myself wanting to stay in Panama for a while. It is a great base for traveling around Central and South America. I have to go back anyway. When I got home I realised I had forgotten to do the one thing you must do in Panama … buy a Panama hat!

 

 

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