I was a little nervous about returning to the Cayman Islands.
First, I was nervous it might kill me a little to go back, because it’s such an emotionally charged spot for me. I spent a happy summer here with the love of my early twenties, a relationship that would eventually turn my heart and life inside out. I wondered if coming back might stir up old memories turned toxic with hindsight.
Then, I was nervous that getting there might actually kill me — like, all the way dead — to go back. The storm that had cast a literal cloud over my time in Roatán was following me across the Caribbean, and as I spent my final night in Central America holed up in the unglamorous transit hub of La Ceiba (not in my original plan, but with airports and ferries shutting down in Roatán I had to flee the island early to make my international flight), I obsessively followed weather reports, trying to determine if my plane would make it off the runway.
There are just two direct flights from Honduras to the Cayman Islands per week, and if mine didn’t take off, I’d miss Batabano — the festival that was bringing me back in the first place. Eager as I was to get out of La Ceiba, the rickety ride that had gotten me there was one of the most unnerving flights of my life, and I wasn’t looking forward to being in the air again.
The amazing news, ranked in order of amazingness: (1) My flight arrived in Grand Cayman safe and sound, if a little bumpy. (2) I got to spend a week with Heather, one of my favorite humans, and Sabai, one of my favorite canines. (3) The rain held off for Batabano, one of the most fun days of my year — a day you’ll be hearing a lot more about.
The less-than-amazing news? The rain came right after the last feather from Batabano was swept off the streets, and it didn’t relent for six days straight.
Day after day, we crossed our fingers for a few hours of sun. We hopped in the car to drive to Rum Point during a seeming bright spot only to turn around when we arrived to torrential downpour, we debated on weather or not to head to the beach when we saw a break in the clouds, we wondered if it was worth it to go diving when we’d spend the boat rides wet and freezing.
Time is the greatest luxury I’ve had on Grand Cayman, so I certainly can’t complain that I haven’t seen the island in all its sun-shiny beauty. I most certainly have. And luckily, girl talk and silly giggles aren’t weather dependent. But Heather and I are both certified vitamin-D addicts, and at this point it had been nearly two weeks since I’d seen the sun. Melancholy, mixed with memories, was setting in.
And then, something wonderful happened. On my final day on Cayman, the cloudy fog lifted and the sun came bursting out from its hiding place. The palm trees swayed a little prouder, the sand shone a bright white, and the water glistened the same turquoise as my favorite shade of pedicure polish.
Submerging myself, finally, in the ocean, I remembered — I remembered this island that played such a big role in my story.
I remembered beach days soaking up the sun with new friends. I remembered meeting my boyfriend — a label I’m so hesitant to affix these days, but was so innocently enamored with back then — after work to swim across Smith’s Cove. Driving up to the North Side on his days off to do crazy bounce dives off the wall with tanks thrown in the back of a truck. Nights out on all-you-can-drink pirate ships and in strip mall nightclubs, days working in the ocean, weekends showing the island to my family who eagerly made their way down in shifts to visit.
National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, the best cure for rainy day blues
I spent a happy summer here with my first real love, living in a tiny apartment — on this trip I went for a run past it, and was delighted to recall that this potassium lover once lived in a complex called Banana Walk — and getting around on his motorbike and my cheap bicycle. I went from a timid Open Water diver to a confident PADI Rescue Certified underwater videographer. I made friends that still play a massive role in my life today — Heather, my all time favorite travel buddy, Wim, who I’ve since watched get married, move to Hawaii, and become a mom, and Brian, a friend I urged to go visit Koh Tao, and someone who now makes that island feel like home no matter how long I’ve been away.
My old Cayman digs
I shouldn’t have been afraid to return to Cayman. The summer I spent here was a turning point, one massive leap towards a life of travel. You can’t hide from old memories, and I can’t look back on my past and cherry pick out parts that were unpleasant but brought me where I am today — which is somewhere pretty fantastic. I might have first come to Cayman for a relationship that took a lot from me, but I returned for the friends, the lessons, and the beauty that this place gave me. All it takes is one beautiful day to remember it.
Yup, we did attempt one dive — stay tune for the roundup for the funny story of how it failed
It’s amazing, everything you see when the sun comes out.
Next up, something a little lighter and brighter… Batabano!
I know how it feels to wish certain parts of your past didn’t exist, but knowing that if they didn’t, today would look a hell of a lot different. I’m glad you made your peace with Grand Cayman, it looks really beautiful and I’m sure your memories–old and new–are as well 🙂
It’s a funny little mental struggle, isn’t it? I wish this thing hadn’t happened, I wish this person hadn’t happened… but then doing the math and realizing that needed to happen for you to get where you are today. And then realizing that you can’t change the past so all our silly little brain games don’t really matter anyway, ha!
I really enjoyed this post. It connected me to that feeling I get when the sun disappears from our UK skies (too regularly!)and the love within which rises on its return.
Great Photos by the way…
Such a beautiful way to put it. It’s amazing how grateful we can feel for something as simple as the warmth of sunlight when we haven’t felt it in a while!
I think it’s a great thing that you were able to not only go back, but to enjoy it and accept its role in your past for what it has brought you now. We can never undo what has happened, but I fully believe we grow from everything we’ve been through, good or bad. Your pictures are beautiful and I can’t wait to spend a day in Grand Cayman this November!
Thank you Marni! Any idea how you’re spending your day? I highly recommend Stingray City — such a unique experience!
We actually have booked that excursion! I’m so excited for it 🙂
Ahhh my time in Cayman was magical, and I didn’t even have any of these emotional ties to the island, so I’m sure this trip was a dream for you, bad weather and all =)
Next group trip location?
Those were some crazy traveling days… I’m remembering us comparing notes on those insane flights – mine in Belize almost slid off the runway. I’m glad you made it, and glad you got to see Cayman in a new light that was awesome and amazing in a different way.
Yeah, that was a crazy pants couple of days. “Hm, La Ceiba. I don’t recommend spending time there. Personally, I was kidnapped.” OH OKAY.
I really liked this post for being so personal and well written.
It makes me very happy that you ended up having a great time in a place with so many memories! Although the weather could have been a bit more cooperative 🙂
It certainly could have, but I’m still grateful to that sun for peeking out before I left!
This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read in a long time, Alex! I love that you were able to give us a sense of Cayman while also bringing us along on your personal journey. Wonderfully written and deeply relatable!
Thank you Caroline! That means a lot. It felt good to write something personal again.
I love the honesty in this post which is something I’ve always valued from your posts 🙂
I’m glad that it didn’t go as terribly as you thought it might. Sometimes rain can be a good thing when you travel- it gives you the ability to slow down a bit and just regroup, even better when it is combined with girl talk!
Thanks Britt. Sometimes things just have to get real around here!
Bahaha the fact that I am floating so high up at the surface in that pic should have been the first clue! Damn amateurs. But what a great post from memories long ago. It was fun having you here again and I miss you!
Just wait for my Batabano post coming up today 😉
What is so great about your writing is that you always show up authentically for your readers even when it may be difficult to face! I know so many of the feelings you’ve described in this post. Your attitude of gratitude always makes reading your blog a highlight of my day 🙂
Well your comment just made my day, Kristina! Thank you so much — this kind of feedback makes writing these posts worth every apprehension.
This article had a certain tone to it eh? Not bitter sweet but more of a, unexpected (but welcomed) maturing or something you’ve grown beyond. Maybe I’m reading to far in to it but your introspective articles are some of your best.
Thanks Shaun. Every once in a while, I’ve gotta go back to my oversharing roots!
Beautiful post, Alex. I know exactly how freeing it can be to realize you’ve truly come out on the other side of one of those life changing, heart wrenching experiences. When you can listen to songs that were once to painful, or see an old photo and smile instead of cry. And in a place as beautiful and Grand Cayman looks, it must have been extra sweet! I’m glad the sun finally came out and you were able to enjoy Batabano!
How could you not enjoy a day like that! It was epic!
I can imagine how difficult it must have been to have all those old memories come flooding back, but I’m glad you didn’t let it ruin your visit! Love the last sentence of this post!
Thanks Ashley. It was good to work through! But I was happy to see that sun 🙂
I’ve been following your blog for at least 4 years now and I must say you are such an inspiration to me. In the past year or two you’ve become the only travel blog that I read every single post on and look forward to every week. Your travels and your passion have been inspiring and entertaining me for awhile now. But at this particular time in my life (I’m about to graduate college with no life or career plans, and am also dealing with a major breakup/ life change that feels very similar to what you posted about back in 2012) it is so encouraging to see how far you’ve come and what you’ve experienced since that time in your life. It gives me so much hope for my life. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful experiences! I can’t wait to follow for years to come.
Char, this means so much to me! Thank you so much for your kind words. And thank you so much for reading and coming along with me for so many years — and many more to come. Cheers to what I’m confident will be an amazing future for both of us.