When my plane takes off Thursday morning I will have spent three months of my life on this island. Three months of working, learning, playing, and loving. I don’t know how long you have to spend in a place to have “lived” there, but I do feel like I’m leaving a life and a home, albeit a brief one.
My relationship with Grand Cayman has been an interesting one, a strong contrast to the head over heels passionate love affair I had last summer with my island in Thailand. Here in Cayman I felt a lot of “meh” upon arrival. I raised my eyebrows at the chain restaurants dotting the harbor. I bristled as I pushed through the cruise ship tourists being herded from one duty free shop to another. I nearly choked when I saw the price of a mojito. But even with my guard up and my mind set to dislike the place, I melted at the sight of the Caribbean waters and looked forward to the heart of what brought me here: a place where I could spend three uninterrupted months with my boyfriend before passports and circumstances pull us apart again.
There are things I won’t miss. I won’t miss occasionally mindlessly snacking on ants when they find their way into a sealed box of graham crackers. I won’t miss the bureaucratic drama of bike licensing and passport validation and work permits where you seem to be paying for the privilege of living here and spending more money. I won’t miss living in a place with excellent restaurants and barely being able to afford Wendy’s.
All the things I just listed are things here that make life hard, or if not hard, mildly uncomfortable. But that’s just the thing that I turned me off of this place. Its not hard. Its actually quite easy, and familiar, and suburban. In fact, if you were to carve Grand Cayman out of its place on earth and plop it in middle America, it would be just another suburb. With better restaurants.
Crime is low, the standard of living is high. Here I can have any grocery item I desire (though it comes at a price). I can go to the over air conditioned theatre and see any movie I wish (except for R rated movies on Sundays, but that’s another post). I want for almost nothing, except the things money prohibits me from having. But it is available. Its like Pleasantville, but hotter.
And that’s the problem. When I leave my home and my country I’m looking for something different. A challenge, an assault on the senses, a glimpse into a life totally different from the one I left behind. I want to sacrifice the comfortable and the familiar in exchange for something more; too see how far I can stretch myself, to open my mind, to be a better, in so many senses, person. That is what travel has done for me.
In that sense Cayman left me a bit cold. I knew right away if I was going to enjoy my time here I needed to change my outlook. I had to stop comparing this summer’s island to last summer’s island, because Koh Tao would always win.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re worried that I was unhappy the past three months. Or more likely, you’re worried that I am a total brat and should shut up and be happy I’m not in a working at Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Stand in Albany, New York. Hence the most important lesson I’ve taken away from Cayman, also known as How I Learned To Stop Being An Island Snob And Ended Up Having An Awesome Summer
My affection for this island grew slowly and steadily until now, when I can genuinely say I feel sadness at leaving.
Cayman’s greatest asset is the water and that is where I found a lot of peace this summer. Since learning to dive last year, I looked forward to dives and genuinely enjoyed it as a hobby. I still struggled with key components like buoyancy and control of my movements. But as with all great things, practice makes competence. Between diving for fun with Mark, for education by completing more courses, and for work doing underwater video, I developed a comfort and appreciation for the underwater world. And then I bought my underwater digital camera. In the first week I went for four dives. And it was on one of them, gliding through the water slowly, quietly, I realized I was at peace. And I was in love. I promise not to get all third-eye woo woo on you here, but I’ve realized that diving is my meditation. I’ve never really been able to master that in the yoga studio, where my mind tends to fall to how many minutes are left in the class or what I’m eating for lunch. But down below, where total silence and slow movements take over, my mind can abandon the stresses above. Holding a camera and seeing things through a lens allowed me to even more appreciate the beauty of what I was seeing.
Photography was, of course, a massive part of my summer. While it was tough to accept that I was going to be having a profitless summer for the first time in years, once I moved past that I realized I could not have asked for a better internship experience. From working with Heather Holt Photography I have developed a diverse portfolio, a great reference, a summers worth of experience, and a great friendship.
And that was not the only friendship I made. Through the amazing diving community in Cayman Mark and I were able to make so many great friends, many of whom I know are friends for life. On my leaving night I looked around and felt lucky to have met so many funny, smart, kind people that are all out living their dreams. I was surrounded by great examples every day of the kind of life I want to lead. And that is the most valuable thing I will take away from Grand Cayman.
Thank you Cayman, for an amazing summer!