A Travellerspoint blog

Visiting the Bluff in the Buff

Weekend Trip to the Brac

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View 2014 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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Moving here from the U.S., we knew we'd be around our kids a lot of the time without any significant breaks for just Nadine and I. After many gracious offers from the kind elementary school principal to watch our kids for a weekend (I don't believe weekend babysitting is in her job description), we finally took her up on her offer. Since we have been on island, our entire family has considered Angie and her husband, Kevin, to be our kids' surrogate island grandparents. They seem quite willing to fill that role.

The Cayman Islands consist of 3 total islands. They are Grand Cayman, and the 2 sister Islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Grand Cayman is the big city (pop. 60,000). Cayman Brac is the country town (pop. 2,000). And Little Cayman is a ghost town (pop. 150). Upon further research of our trusted Lonely Planet, neither one of the Sister Islands have much to do other than scuba dive, and neither one of us dive. We decided to go with Cayman Brac for our surprise Valentine's Day weekend.

Even though the Cayman Islands receive cruise ships and cargo ships, there yet isn't any type of ferry/boat service between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands. Even though they lie 65 miles apart. So we took my favorite form of transport. We boarded the large plane destined for Kingston, Jamaica with a very brief stopover on Cayman Brac.

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We sat next to a very nice lady from the Brac (that's what the local call Cayman Brac). She asked us our names, where we were from, had we ever been to the Brac before. She then resumed talking about her sick husband, her knitting business in Grand Cayman, and the state of affairs in the Cayman Islands. Everything was fair game. When the plane was 45 minutes late, she transformed from a nice, gentle soul into a very jaded, opinionated one. She then attacked Cayman Airways inability to leave on time, count the number of passengers onboard correctly. She was on the verge of counting all them herself. Eventually we took off and her hand sewn bag broke. Karma?

Fortunately for us, a student of mine has a grandmother from the Brac and they graciously offered to allow us to stay at their little guest house for only $25 a night. For the Cayman Islands, that is a bargain!

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For the first time in a long time, Nadine and I felt like a pair of tourists. No kids. No responsibilities. Just throwing our backpacks in our little white Korean rental car, and exploring the 12 by 1 mile area of Cayman Brac. There are some similarities between to the two islands. The west end is the more populated side of both islands with the east end being sparcely populated. The one attribute that the Brac has over Grand Cayman is elevation. The highest point on Grand Cayman peaks at a lofty 75 feet, and that may be the island dump Mount Trashmore. The Brac on the other hand soars over Grand Cayman, its' highest point is 149 feet.

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The Gaelic word brac means bluff, and the brac starts emerging from the sea as you head east. The bluff continues elevating until you abruptly hit the the Lighthouse on the eastern most point of the island. Drastically, 149 feet drop smack dab into the Caribbean Sea below. It's a great place for rock climbers. Yet the edge is not roped off, so if you explore too close to the edge, you may become a cliff diver. Or even a cliff cannonballer.

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People on Cayman Brac are just as friendly just like the rest of the country. While driving around the Brac, folks would simply give each other the Texas wave from behind the steering wheel. This isn't the one you see in New Mexico where you solely flash the middle finger, rather this consists of raising your index finger. Now if we could just get them saying y'all.

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Last tourist excursion was a visit to the Cayman Brac Parrot Reserve, the only place in the world where the Cayman Brac parrot lives. As Lonely Planet proudly explained on page 282 of their Caribbean Islands guidebook, "you should not have no trouble spotting one of the 400 remaining Cayman Brac parrots that are slowly reestablishing themselves." First of all Lonely Planet, 400? I only counted three. Secondly, no trouble whatsoever spotting them? As we walked over the raised wooden walkway over the limestone bluff, we were skilled and fortunate enough to only hear two or three of these 400 parrots. Never saw a single one.

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Until next time, ¡hasta pronto!

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Posted by TulsaTrot 08.03.2014 15:27 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged cayman_islands grand_cayman cayman_brac Comments (5)

Mount Trashmore

The Highest Point on Grand Cayman Spontaneously Combusting for Your Viewing Pleasure

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View 2014 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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Welcome to Grand Cayman

Snow days.

Teachers and students alike look forward to them. Pray for them at times. Never did I count on having an unexpected day off from school in the Cayman Islands.

Days off from school present themselves in different manners around the world. Snow days could be a couple feet of snow overnight in Canada earns you half a day off from school. A paro (strike) in Perú could easily get you a couple of days off. Any day of the week in France, goat farmers are angry about working 3 days a week, no school for a week.

Up to this point, I've only experienced snow days and paros. Peruvian paros consisted of strikers blockading major thoroughfares and burning a couple tires and throwing rocks at any cars that attempted to pass by. What we experienced on Grand Cayman needed a few more tires that that.

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Wednesday morning during school, students noticed smoke rising from our next door neighbor's place, the island landfill. The island dump is recognized by accurate moniker, Mouth Trashmore. Mount Trashmore also happens to be the highest point on the very flat Grand Cayman. One of the first things you can see from the many cruise ships that dock here on any given day. You can easily smell it on the road before you see it. Kind of reminds you of the state of New Mexico.

Mount Trashmore had spontaneously combusted for the second time in as many months sending grayish blue smoke billowing past our school. Fortunately, the winds on Wednesday were headed west, away from the school and towards the five cruise ships docked in the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean.

Thursday morning, I headed up to school early to play basketball. Riding to school, it was obvious that the smoke was thicker and the wind had changed direction from a westerly direction to northerly one, directly over campus. A night of sporadic rainfall did not halt the surge of smoke. Looking at the sunrise made me imagine what it would be like to live in any major city in China. The sky was a burnt orange and the sun was a dull oval of light in the sky.

Just as we finished basketball, Joseph poked his head into the gym and muttered a few words that I thought I would never hear on island, "No school today! It's a smoke day."

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Some equipment at the landfill hasn't worked for quite awhile

I thought to myself, "Did I hear that correctly? No school today, because of the smoke? Really?" Upon confirmation, school had been cancelled. It was time to make grandiose plans, and not live up to them.

Friday morning, the kids, Nadine, and myself were ready for school, grabbing the keys, and literally heading out the door, when we received a text stating that school had been cancelled once again because of another morning of thick smoke cresting over the school. What were the chances?

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The view from Seven Mile Beach

Actually, the dump is a point of contention on island right now. The landfill has been mismanaged and their equipment doesn't work properly or at all. Recycling doesn't exist. Dart Enterprises has offered to clean the landfill in exchange for the land. There are many factors involved and a committee of 20 will attempt to resolve this problem. The Cayman Islands depend on tourism, so for their sake, they should probably come up with a manageable solution.

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This was the source of the first fire five days before Christmas

Posted by TulsaTrot 22.02.2014 18:33 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged school cayman_islands grand_cayman mount_trashmore Comments (0)

Crossing Oceans

We got around in 2013

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View 2013 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

We tend to travel a bit. 2013 was a bit different. We traveled a lot.

It was one of the more prolific years of travel since 2006-2007.

San Francisco

February consisted of a quick trip to San Francisco with hopes of an international teaching position, we got one in the Caribbean. We also scored some hard to find Pliny the Elder.

Oregon

Nadine got her skiing and friend fix in Oregon in late winter.

London, England and Spain

I led over 20 students across the Atlantic to London, England and Barcelona, Valencia, and Godella for a week of Spanish language and cultural immersion.

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Atlanta

I spent time in Hotlanta for IB school training.

Belize

Our first international vacation as a family of four introduced all to Beautiful Belize.

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Papua New Guinea and Australia

Dr. Pepper and myself headed over to the other side of the world to visit our good buddy Scuba Steve as he volunteered in Papua New Guinea. PNG was a great trip that renewed the craziness and unexpected of passing outside your home borders. I have to say that PNG is travel back in time in many ways. Fortunately we were able to meet up with our friends the Bennetts in Melbourne on our return flight to the States through Australia.

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Cayman Islands

In August, we finally made the move to the Cayman Islands where we work and attend the Cayman International School.

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Phoenix

To finish the year, we returned to spend Christmas on American soil.

Here are a few stats from the year.

16 total blog entries
242,902 visits to the blog since 2006
7 countries visited
2 new countries visited - England and Papua New Guinea
53,000 miles traveled
1st international flight in business class

The first person that can successfully guess the first country (other than the United States and Cayman Islands) that I will visit in 2014, I will send you a postcard from the Caribbean. Hint: It is Spanish speaking.

We made it to the end of another blog. It's been a great year and here's to another great and eventful 2014 for all. If you find yourself in the Cayman Islands, we'll show you where the best beach is located.

Posted by TulsaTrot 10.01.2014 19:36 Archived in USA Tagged england australia spain belize cayman_islands london_england papua_new_guinea around_the_world_travel dr_pepper Comments (2)

A Laborious Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving in not any other day, it's a great American holiday.

It's is the one major American holiday that is solely celebrated in the States . . .

Well, not exactly. Canadians celebrate it as well.

But's it's a holiday that hasn't been completely transformed by retail businesses . . .

Well, not completely I guess. Black Friday has crept into Thursday afternoon of Thanksgiving

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Basically, Thanksgiving is still a great American holiday that revolves around the premise of giving thanks and spending time with family, important components of life.

This isn't the first time I have been outside the United States on Thanksgiving. When I volunteered in Perú, that marked my first time abroad. Our around the world trip in 2006, we spent Thanksgiving in Asia. Yet, melancholy set in the evening before Thanksgiving knowing that it would be the first time we ever had to work on Turkey Day.

All I thought about the entire day was sitting on the couch, watching NFL football, hanging out with family, eating turkey, and then falling asleep on the couch. Due to the fact that I was teaching at CIS, I couldn't do these things.

Fortunately, a colleague had the great idea of putting together a Thanksgiving dinner in our gym. After school, several of us met up on the soccer field and played some flag football. Just like back home, except it was warm. We followed the flag football loss with a turkey potluck dinner and a Dallas Cowboys victory. Just like home, except the turkey was in a basketball gym and the Cowboys won.

Posted by TulsaTrot 25.12.2013 13:32 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged thanksgiving cayman_islands Comments (2)

Heineken or Corona? I mean Trick or Treat

Halloween in the Cayman Islands

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There is no better time to restock candy supplies than Halloween.

Every year, Sophie and Dominic get excited to done a costume and walk the neighborhood collecting candy. Nadine and I just get excited to just see them dressed up and having fun.

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Ninja Bunny and Her Faithful Sidekick

Over previous Halloweens, one of us would just sit back at the house passing out candy and the other would accompany the kids. This year, we joined a friend in her neighborhood where all the kids and parents walked together from house to house to experience a Cayman Halloween.

Yet this year, there was one big difference at Halloween. Houses kindly thought about the adult chaperones. In addition to Kit Kats and Hershey Kisses, there were coolers of beer in the "big kid" section. So while Sophie and Dominic yelled "Trick or Treat", I decided between a cold Heineken or Corona in the humid air.

This is a tradition I could throughly support. What better way, and I am positive that there aren't any better ones, to get more fathers spending quality time with their kids. And think of the fun that everyone would have - kids running around on a sugar high and their fathers chasing them with a little a liquid courage.

Happy Halloween!

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Posted by TulsaTrot 15.11.2013 19:48 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged halloween cayman_islands Comments (4)

Roundabouting Grand Cayman

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Grand Cayman is not a mammoth island like Cuba, nor it is a little spit of sand dotting the Caribbean landscape. The island has a sizable population of 65,000 inhabitants, roughly the same number of Walmarts you find in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dotted over the island may be 10 total stoplights. Transportation is just on a smaller scale.

There is 5:00 traffic, yet it only delays your commute by five minutes, but surprisingly enough, 5:00 traffic lasts until 6:30.

Driver tendencies span from grandmas inching down the road to young teenagers racing around blind corners. Iguanas never know what to expect.

Being that the Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory, everyone drives on the lefthand side of the road and all vehicles move completely opposite from back home.

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Yet there is one thing that makes life more convenient on the road. It isn't rum, it's roundabouts.

These well designed roundabouts allow traffic to flow. Like a river. It does require you to be able to use your blinker with proficiency.

With roundabouts, you never have to idle.

Roundabouts come in two sizes, large and small.

I do question, do people have the "right" away, or the left "away"?

P.S. I added a video to Ivan's Salty Lemons

Posted by TulsaTrot 11.11.2013 18:48 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged roundabouts Comments (3)

Ivan's Salty Lemons

The Joys of Purchasing a Car on Grand Cayman

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Man has always needed to advance from one spot to another.

Here on Grand Cayman, we were no different. We decided to buy a car, and as we have learned firsthand, there are several very important steps in purchasing your first vehicle on island.

#1 - Get a Drivers License

On our second day, we headed over to the DMV, took our drivers exam. Passed it with flying colors. As long as you consider flying colors getting help from the officer in the testing room. Done.

#2 - Scour the Island for a Suitable Vehicle

Three places sell cars: online at eCaytrade.com, car dealerships, and any free space alongside the road.

eCaytrade.com(not to be confused with the much larger eBay), sells anything you could imagine. Everyone selling a vehicle lists it on eCay. Half of the cars that we test drove, were found there.

The only car I test drove at a dealership was pretty indicative of my views about them. I walked over to the Nissan, turned the keys, nothing. The ignition didn't even try to roll over. The assistant salesperson seated under the tin stand a 100 yards away, slowly stood up, and walked over with jumper cables in hand. Not the most promising sign. Before you could say "This battery is not of very good quality", the car had been jumped and I was off racing around town. Our eagerness to have some transportation was obvious by the fact that I brought Nadine and the kids to test drive the same car a second time. And a second time, the car had to be jumped. The salesperson promised that would put a new battery in it. Yeah right! That's about as likely as a New Mexican running a silverware plant.

The 2007 Ford Taurus Strikes Back

#3 - Test Drive that Bad Boy!

Once you find a car in your price range and actually are able to get a hold of someone on the phone, then you test drive that car like it's no one's business. Most importantly, you don't buy a car that was on island during Hurricane Ivan as the majority of cars were underwater. As I did, you check every little crevasse, examine the trunk, stare intently at everything under the hood, kick the tires twice just to be sure, cross your arms and scratch your chin, and audibly say "hmmmm" just so they know you just aren't quite sure the quality of this transportation. This is a very important step in any car buying experience. None of this is as important as #5. After all the posturing, you calmly ask, and not like you really need someone else's opinion, "Can I have a mechanic look over it, because it looks great to me and if everything checks out, we'll buy it for $2,000, a dozen conch shells, 48 coconuts, and a twelve pack of Ironshore Bock beer."

#4 - Verify with a Mechanic

Nadine and I had found a couple of cars that fit all of our requirements. Four wheels, cup holder (Sophie and Dominic's request), working cd player, and A/C that was a cold as the other side of the bed. All the posturing about my car knowledge blew imploded once the mechanic shared his professional opinion, and we found out the real state of those pieces of machinery. Every time, the mechanic looked at us sadly and stated, "There is no way I would buy that car John. I might pay a maximum . . . . $500. Also John, I wouldn't buy anything other than Japanese on this island. That is my one piece of advice from my experience here.". With that, we returned to step #2.

#5 - Let's Make a Deal

Find that one special car that makes your eyes twinkle. They list it at $5,000, you offer $500, both parties go back and forth until you reach that middle point, $4,500. You give them the money, grab the keys, drive off and tell yourself, "We really got a steal." Actually, this is an island where old cars don't lose value. There's not enough cars to replace them. Plus, mechanics will never go hungry from a lack of work.

#6 - Of Course Your Car is Going to Break Down

Once you have that one special vehicle. It's important to drive it. The island initiation to having a new car is that in the first week, it will break down at some point and you have to make repairs.

#7 - 2007 Ford Taurus

What actually happened:

  • After a month and a half of a rental car (You're welcome Thrifty), we test drove 12 cars. The two we considered buying turned out to be lemons. Looked beautiful, but under the hood, they were crap.
  • An accountant was leaving the island heading back to London and was looking to sell rather quickly, the car handled the roundabouts just fine. I liked the color. Nadine liked it, it was same make of her very first car. The kids liked it because it had several cup holders.
  • We made a deal, bought the 2007 Ford Taurus, officially passed the title over to us, and it was our island car. Oh, we didn't want to deal with taking it to the mechanic this time. We just went with our gut feelings here.
  • Within hours, the rusty antenna fell off. Returning from work Friday night (we bought it Thursday), we stopped at the store, came back out and it wouldn't start. We had to have the battery replaced the next day.
  • Within a week, the car was making a very annoying squeaking sound. Maybe that was the car's way of making music since our radio was broken and we don't have any cds.
  • It was a tiring month and a half experience, but we now have a car. It's gets us around Grand Cayman.

Where is it right now you might ask? It's currently at the mechanic being fixed.

Posted by TulsaTrot 23.10.2013 15:43 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged cayman_islands grand_cayman purchasing_a_car buying_a_car Comments (3)

Rum Point, Aim, and Shoot

A Birthday Photo Essay

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This is the second time that Nadine has spent her birthday abroad.

The first time she was in Australia, the second time, she spent it here in the Cayman Islands.

This is a photo essay of her birthday.

First Stop, Botanical Gardens

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Rum Point

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Feliz Cumple Nadine

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Posted by TulsaTrot 07.09.2013 21:30 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged nadine cayman_islands grand_cayman nadine's_birthday Comments (2)

The Wide World of Cayman Sports

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It is said that when a person moves to Grand Cayman, they either become a fitness freak or an alcoholic.

I am still weighing my options.

My first swim in the Caribbean Sea was a Wednesday late afternoon. The local Cayman Triathlon Association had organized an aquathlon. So I jumped in the water, heard the horn go off, and began swimming. While other swimmers were churning water next to me, I was more focused on the colorful fish below. My first dip in the water was a competitive one.

We've found out that Grand Cayman is an incredibly active island. Our first weekend on island, the Caymanian Compass had a half page article about the flag football league and the upcoming playoffs. Here you will find leagues from basketball to inline hockey. There's even a fencing league. Basically if there is a sport you play, it's likely there is a group playing it on the island.

Nadine and I don't want to be left out, we've already signed up for a few races.

Posted by TulsaTrot 07.09.2013 19:29 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged sports cayman_islands teaching_abroad grand_cayman Comments (0)

Sticker Shock!

Welcome to the Cayman Islands

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Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?
- George Carlin

After months of anticipation, we had arrived to the Cayman Islands.

We were greeted warmly by humidity, our school director Jeremy, and our guide for a couple days, Matt. We loaded our four large bags, four medium sized bags, four small ones, and a bike and were on our way to our new apartment.

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Grand Cayman Island is renowned for great food. Our first lunch out on at Cimboko was revealing though. Our delicious mix of two small pizzas, mac n' cheese, and a fish sandwich came out to $55 Cayman dollars, or roughly $66 American! That was our introduction to prices on Grand Cayman.

Another aspect of Grand Cayman is that the people are very friendly. Every time that I have greeted someone with a "Howdy, how are you?", they have cheerfully responded.

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Fortunately for us, the government recently issued a law that requires citizens and residents alike to take a computerized drivers test of forty questions in order to obtain a drivers license. You have to correctly answer 32 or more questions or you fail. If you do fail, you have to pay another $25 registration fee and take the test again. If you fail a second time, repeat the previous process.

Nadine and I both studied the drivers manual cover to cover the day before our tests. Being a British Overseas Territory, the cars on the Cayman Islands follow the British system of driving on the left hand side of the road without stop lights. They have been substituted with roundabouts.

The morning of the drivers test, Matt took us to the DMV where Nadine and I entered the nicely air conditioned testing room. I figured I would be able to easily pass with an extensive background of driving in Texas. While taking the test, the screen showed your score after each question. I missed two of the first three questions. Oh shoot! The previous day, one of the new teachers told us that it had taken him three opportunities to pass the exam. I was on my way soon to following his footsteps.

I reached the point in the exam where I had correctly answered 24 and missed 7. That left me with 9 questions where I could only miss 1. On the next question, I calmly stated to the jovial patrol officer that two of the answers were pretty ambiguous. Over the next 8 questions, he "guided" me through the maze that is the Cayman Islands drivers test.

I passed with flying colors, 33 out of 40. Nadine had the same score . . . without any help.

Nadine's encounter with a baby green sea turtle

I have now have something that only foreign millionaires and billionaires are able to own in the Cayman Islands, a Cayman bank account.

We have entered the water everyday in Grand Cayman. It has either been in the pool or at the second most beautiful beach in the Caribbean, Seven Mile Beach.

Cayman is an international mix of nationalities. 60% of the 55,000 population is foreign. Some of the most common nationalities are Jamaican, Honduran, American, British, and most surprising, Filipino. Our apartment building, 8 apartments, has residents from England, Australia, Italy, Tennessee, Nicaragua and Canada. When Nadine and I started our international job search, we wanted to live in a Spanish speaking country, but in my week here, I have met people from Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and I know there are folks from the rest of Latin America here. That means I should have plenty of guest speakers for my Spanish classes.

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Finally the saddest news of all. I now owe my sister $5 (American). We made a very important bet years ago. I said I wouldn't do this one thing until pigs flew. Well, they were flying in full force earlier this week. I purchased my first cell phone.

I have always avoided purchasing a cell phone for the fact that it's just another loss of freedom. People can contact you at anytime. You're always plugged in and it rescrambles your brain. You can't focus for long. One of Nadine's coworkers even gave her a phone. Well, it is much more expensive to have a land line than a cell phone. So Nadine and I have now entered the twenty-first century, we now have a cell phone. It is far from being smart.

Well, there is our first week on Grand Cayman. Time to start educating citizens of the world.

John and Nadine

P.S. We also purchased cable for the first time ever.

P.S.S. If you can be the first person to answer the question at the bottom of this blog correctly, I will send you a postcard from Grand Cayman.

P.S.S.S. Here is a video excitedly showing off her new roomHere is a video excitedly showing off her new room (Plus, she has the eye roll down perfectly; she must have learned that from her mom)

Posted by TulsaTrot 20.08.2013 19:32 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged expensive cayman_islands arrival Comments (3)

Island Time on Grand Cayman

The Next Adventure - Living Abroad as a Family

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Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
– Andre Gide

I enjoy the sensation of being in a new place and the growth that follows. So must Nadine, she married me.

Nadine and I decided to teach abroad in early 2013 and landed perfect jobs for us at the Cayman International School.

Our original plan involved traveling south from Alaska down the western coast of the Americas and return north from Tierra del Fuego up the Eastern coast of the Americas. That would have proven to be more challenging and expensive than our original around the world trip in 2006. So we found an alternative that still exposes our children to the richness of this big world and allows us to be financially responsible at the same time.

We shall see what the future holds for us as we embrace island time here in the Cayman Islands.

It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.
– Herodotus

Posted by TulsaTrot 15.08.2013 19:53 Archived in Cayman Islands Tagged teaching_abroad international_schools living_abroad_with_family Comments (2)

Ahhh Papua New Guinea

General Observations About Papua New Guinea

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I know enough of the world now to have almost lost the capacity of being much surprised by anything.
― Charles Dickens

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I was excited for my voyage to visit Scuba Steve in Papua New Guinea. But after 47 countries, I kind of feel like Charles Dickens' quote, but I was surprised by how much more PNG challenged me as a traveler. It was impressive.

Here are a few of my observations about PNG and getting there.

Papua New Guinea is a stunningly beautiful country with a plethora of natural resources. Fruits and vegetables grow easily in the fertile soil. You would have to try to go hungry. Food literally falls out of the sky.

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Even though it was winter, PNG was hot and humid. I averaged two showers a day and never did I touch the hot water faucet.

The road conditions around Madang left much to be desired. It appears that the damage still remains from bombing runs during WWII between the Japanese and Americans.

PNG follows a tribal system that values tribes more than the state. A tribe protects and takes care of everyone within it. If anyone is wronged, injured, or killed from their tribe, the tribe automatically seeks retribution.

Along the highway exist massive holes that could swallow small children, even large ones. When PNG tries to repair these, villages do not allow them to be repaired. They prefer to fix them themselves. This is done in order to stop traffic and demand "fees" for the work that they completed.

Flying Business Class to PNG and having access to the airline lounges were well worth the effort, if just for the food.

The XXXX beer (Australia) that we drank on our flight from Cairns, Australia to Port Moresby was blessed personally by Billy Moore, but his blessing did not affect the taste.

The PNG beer SP, was referred to a few times as 'Sewer Piss', but it was definitely better than XXXX.

The key to tell the difference between someone from the coast and someone from the highlands is by studying their calves. Highlanders are constantly climbing and descending steep slopes, thus the large calves.

Scattered around the St. Fidelis Seminary are WWII Japanese antiaircraft guns.

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We saw a single caged cassowary on Kar Kar Island. What a fascinating bird. The colorful head looked prehistoric and their middle toe is armed with a dangerously sharp claw. When I first approached the bird, he let out a gurgling howl. Sounds like Pepper's first girlfriend.

Both cocoa and coconuts are very labor intensive with delicious rewards.

PNG Journalism carries chauvinistic and elementary tones.

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PNG grass cutting combined with heat and humidity is no laughing matter.

Betel nut spit looks a lot like blood.

The Bennett family in Melbourne is still great. They have just grown up a bit.

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Bennett Family - 2006

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Bennett Family - 2013

PNG was a great life experience, not sure if I will be in that neck of the woods anytime soon.

John

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Posted by TulsaTrot 14.08.2013 20:39 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged papua_new_guinea Comments (1)

Refrain from Sex, Part 2

More Musings about PNG and my infatuation with coconuts

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Papua New Guinea is truly a unique place in the world.

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No Smoking and No . . . ?

Think about this for a second. The second largest island in the world is New Guinea and on the eastern half is the relatively new country of Papua New Guinea where roughly 750 languages are spoken. That is one unique language for every 10,000 people. Pull out your Google translator and see how much that helps you in PNG.

Our arrival to the pier with Father Bogdan was thrilling to say the least. But we did arrive with Pepper only soiling his underwear. That is a problem only the fish in the Bismark Sea could solve. Compared to the truck ride up the coast, our boat ride was smooth and relaxing, no need to dodge potholes. We arrived to Kar Kar Island safely and relaxed.

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PNG is a gorgeous place

The View a Few Steps from Father Bogdan's Moldy House

For me as a Westerner, Father Bogdan exemplifies a missionary priest in many ways. It's not the fact that his residence is a three bedroom house standing idyllically on stilts among coconut trees lining a black volcanic beach as his house would be considered luxurious compared to those of his neighbors. But, and this is a big butt. He lives in a tropical climate where the walls of his home are constantly bombarded by some form of water. I would safely assume that Father Bogdan would not consider himself a clean freak (his fridge didn't work and kept the frozen chicken in a cabinet under the sink). As a result of many environmental factors, his house is infested with mold. Not the friendly green mold, but the black kind that considers confident enough to overthrow a small island country.

The Single Road Circling Kar Kar Island

There are two families that cultivate cocoa and coconuts on the island of Kar Kar. Since Father Bogdan was busy saying Sunday Mass at several spots around the island, we were dropped in the capable hands of the Goodyear Family for a day. They are one of the two families with plantations. Paul is originally from Papua New Guinea and Barbara is from Germany. She initially came to spend a year as a volunteer, but met Paul, and had three beautiful children, and has made Kar Kar her home. Paul's brother Tim recently returned from Australia to help out with the family business.

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Being the kind and good people the Goodyears are, Paul and Tim took part of the day to show us a good portion of their land. Pepper and I rode in the back of their Land Rover with Tim while ol' man Scuba Steve sat in the truck with Paul. We learned how labor intensive cocoa and coconuts can be. The long road to having cocoa in your chocolate starts with little white fleshy pods inside a bright yellow fruit. Through a process of drying the small acidic bean, you end up with a small brown bean that is used to make chocolate.

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The Cocoa Production Process

Ever since my time in the Cook Islands, I have had an infatuation with the resourcefulness of coconuts. They are such a versatile fruit. They provide nourishment in varied ways. You can eat a young coconut, a slimy flesh coconut, or a mature coconut. All are delicious. Plus, if you find one with coconut milk, it's a nutrient rich drink. Coconuts even provide dessert and an aperitif. Within some young coconuts, there is a sweet marshmallow type of flesh. Plus, if you have a bottle of rum hanging around, bam, instant party.

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After three days of small island living in Kar Kar, it was time to return to the big island. Back at the St. Fidelis Seminary, one of the chores that requires daily attention in this equatorial climate is the grass that is constantly growing. On average, Scuba Steve cuts the grass for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday. As a small form of appreciation, I decided to help cut the grass and then I recruited Pepper.

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Just a Portion of the Grass Cut

In general, I have always enjoyed cutting grass. In theory, two hours cutting grass should be a stroll in the park. But oh no, not with PNG grass. The reality is PNG grass kicked my butt. I was ill prepared for the lethal combination of the heat and humidity, the spongy soil under thick bladed grass, the fear of having to dodge falling coconuts, and random assaults by ants. Halfway through cutting the grass, I began feeling a bit lightheaded. Fortunately, it rained for 15 minutes. At the end of our "service", four hours of grass cutting equated to having completed 1/20 of the campus. If you ever want to know the key to weight lose, cut grass in PNG.

I celebrated my 36th birthday (really?!?) in PNG. Unbeknown to me, the Capuchin Brothers and volunteers made me a cake for my bday. We toasted my 36 years with a little Gentlemans Johnny Walker, cake, and mint chocolate ice cream (12 chocolate chips in the entire 3 gallon container).

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Do Not Have Sex!

The Papua New Guinea Post Courier had an article that caught my eye. It was titled, "Do Not Have Sex! Jail Boss Tells Female Officers to Stop Having Sexual Intercourse with Prisoners". The intriguing item about the article was that full blame was not placed on any of the prisoners themselves, but the female officers. The Police Commissioner Martin Balthazar (whose name came up often in the paper) stated that the prison has "no place for women who have no ethical morals". Obviously the prison does have a few spots available for unethical men. But honestly, how tough is prison when the female guards decide for their coffee break to skip the coffee and just have a little copulation.

On the second page of the headline article, Balthazar simply said that women "should just keep their legs closed". The reason this article was in the paper on the front page, other than reminding women to quit fornicating in prison with criminals, was the fact that the "notorious criminal William Kapris" and two other dangerous criminals had escaped. Honestly, how hard would it be for a criminal to escape in these challenging conditions (if they even really wanted to).

Prisoner: "Excuse me Officer Jodahazar, before we begin, I think I really should wash up."
Officer: "Sure take my keys over in my pants over there to use our officer bathroom. No, not that one, because that one lets you out of this place. There, that one. Now you hurry up you little sex kitten!"

I could go on forever, but for your sake, let's bring this to an end.

Question of the week - Papua New Guinea comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, what country is on the other half?

First correct answer will receive a postcard from the Grand Cayman Islands in a month and a half.

How About a Little Grilled Octopus

Posted by TulsaTrot 10.08.2013 09:27 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged newspapers papua_new_guinea kar_kar_island karkarisland Comments (3)

Refrain from Sex, Part 1

And Other Lessons Learned in PNG

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I would move to Texas in a second. - Father Adrian (Polish Priest living in PNG)

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An enormous pothole formed in the middle of a busy street. Deep enough that when it rained, the hole filled with water. Plenty of water. Enough water that children used this as a swimming pool. That is until a crocodile decided to commandeer and reside in the children's street pool.

That is a true story that appeared in the national PNG newspaper. So did other interesting stories.

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Due to the fact that our flight from Cairns arrived into Port Moresby 55 minutes before our next flight, we weren't allowed on our final flight. That gave us the chance the next morning in the domestic departure lounge to talk with an Aussie traveling with her two kids to Wewak to see her husband. We filled her into the fact that we were here to visit Scuba Steve during his time as a volunteer in PNG.

From there, her descriptions of PNG went a little something like this. "It is so hot here in PNG . . . but you'll love it."

"Oh, there are so many types of diseases all over PNG, make sure you don't wear shorts or short sleeves without many layers of bug repellant, but even that won't keep the mosquitos away . . . but you'll love it . . . you're only here for a week and a half right?"

"Did I mention the people? Oh the people are just so lazy . . . I don't know why . . . I can't stand it here . . . but you'll love it. Promise."

That was our introduction to PNG from a jaded expat's point of view, one full of contradictions, emblematic of the country we happily found ourselves visiting.

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Since November, Scuba Steve has served as a volunteer at the St. Fidelis Seminary in Madang, Papua New Guinea. It's a beautifully simple seminary on several lush acres of land surrounded trees hovering over the land below. Steve has resided, accompanied, and taught with a couple of Cupuchin brothers, a priest, and another volunteer. Days are spent in prayer, teaching, cutting acres upon acres of thick bladed grass on spongey soil, and sweating. The equatorial climate of coastal Madang is a combination of hot and humid, with some showers thrown in every day or so to provide a brief respite from perspiration. Not a single time in PNG did I ever take a lukewarm shower, always cold.

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Northwest of Madang is the volcanic island of Kar Kar. On Kar Kar resides a Polish priest. He is the only priest on the entire island. He welcomed our company and invited us to stay with him for a couple of days. He even volunteered to drive us up the coast to catch a boat over to the black sand beaches.

Pepper's quote aptly sums up our harrowing 45 minute drive up the riddled road up the coast, "When you are in the good graces of the Lord, one apparently does not fear death as much as I do."

Pepper and I jumped in the back of Father Bogdan's dented blue truck that had already seen a few adventures and the moment his truck hit the main highway, Bogdan was on his own PNG autobahn. He hit the accelerator and didn't let up until profoundly deep potholes presented themselves and impeded his forward progress. At this point he would slam on the brakes and slalom into the opposite lane or off onto the shoulder of the road, throwing us sinners towards the truck cab, and within a second, he hit the gas and threw us back towards the truck's gate. That must be some unique type of penance.

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The Face of Someone Afraid He is about to Meet his Maker

Minutes into our drive, the rain began to fall. At first, a light drizzle. Then, then the heavy stuff came. Looking into the cab at Father Bogdan was not comforting in the least for either one of us. He was in a full on conversation with Scuba Steve and unperturbed with the weather. With his left hand, he wiped away either rain or condensation off the windshield. He was hunkered down, squinting through his brief window of clarity. His right hand held the steering wheel and resembled the hands you would find at a DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince concert, it was waving back and forth all while dodging scattered potholes. He hit one directly that projected Pepper and I up into the air. At one point, Pepper and I were seriously considering abandoning the truck. Approaching a blind corner, not only did Father Bogdan enter the opposite lane, he balanced his truck on the outside of the opposite lane. That took us back to Pepper's original quote.

"Pig Lover Nabbed" was the title of the article that graced the top of the page. If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was in Arkansas or New Mexico. This matter-of-fact title was indicative of observed aspects of the PNG culture.

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In my brief time in PNG, pigs are considered highly valuable. They serve as a form of currency in PNG. If you want to marry someone, there will be a required payment of swine. If you wrong another tribe, retribution is a live porker. That makes the content of the story a bit baffling. According to the story, a man was found "porking" a pig under someone else's house. I ask myself, "Should this be reported in the national newspaper?" Was it a slow day in the news? Imagine if this came out over the BBC. They had to know that this guy wouldn't be able to score another date in a long time by writing this article. "Didn't I see your mugshot in the paper last week with ol' Betsy? Sorry, I can't go out with you tonight. I have to stay home and chew some betel nut tonight."

Plus what happens to said defiled pig? How valuable is that pig now? Is it now worth half a pig, two mangy cats, or a pound of New Mexican green chilies? In no way would anyone accept this pig in some type of transaction in PNG. Just attempting to pass this pig could lead to an immediate tribal war.

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PNG left much to the imagination.

To be continued.

P.S. What do you get when you have two New Mexicans and a Texan?

Posted by TulsaTrot 15.07.2013 18:40 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged newspapers papua_new_guinea pot_holes Comments (0)

Flying the Friendly International Skies

Flying to Papua New Guinea via Australia

sunny 95 °F

11 months ago, I knew my friend Scuba Steve from Tulsa was strongly considering being a volunteer with the Capuchins in Papua New Guinea. Before he even made his final decision, I booked a flight from Omaha to Port Moresby. My remaining job was to get the green chili loving New Mexican, Matthew Pepper, to follow suit.

As a professed travel junkie, I've been playing a game we call the miles game to travel for free or on the cheap, and finding ways to collect massive amounts of miles to support my travel in various means. These miles have allowed me and my family to travel the internationally. So I introduced Pepper to this game and he scored enough miles to accompany me over to a forgotten country. He got on board.

One of my recent goals has been to take an international, long haul flight in any class other than sitting back in the cattle crawl section. After some effort, I had acquired enough miles to fly from Omaha - Dallas - Los Angeles - Sydney, Australia - Cairns - Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in business class. This flight would have cost me $10,000, I paid $20.

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Yes, that is an actual international business class seat

Flying at the front of the plane, I had a completely foreign experience. I finally savored the delicious food that used to waft into the economy class making my mouth water. I had plenty of leg room. My knees never hit the seat in front of me. I was served champagne upon boarding my Sydney flight and had a menu sitting on my seat. I was surrounded in business class by interesting people (In face, I am always surrounded by interesting people on planes). One had been on the USPS cycling team and had rode some training rides with Lance Armstrong (he wasn't surprised about the doping). On another, an Aussie tax accountant shuttled back and forth between Sydney and California to work with his clients. Basically, I felt as out of place as a thief at church.

Pepper sat in his own type of business class, economy class. With his short, stubby legs, it must have felt very spacious.

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For some reason, I didn't suffer from much jet lag on this long haul flight

What has truly drawn me to travel from the beginning with my mom, is the ability to float above earth simply observing different cross sections of humanity as they pass below. It's an unique position as an observer. No interactions. Just watch farms, cities, cars, and people from an aerial view and guess what is happening. This time though, I would be transported luxuriously from the ultra modernity and efficiency of the United States to a culture lacking any resemblance of efficiency with a tribal mentality.

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This Aussie XXXX beer is special, it was personally blessed by the brewer

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Madang flight to Madang

Pepper and I finally ran into each other in the vacant international airport terminal in Cairns, Australia. We picked up a few necessities before heading north, me some Tim-Tams, and Pepper some alcohol. I guess you take the Pepper out of New Mexico, but you can't take the New Mexican alcoholic tendencies out of Pepper.

Our flight carried us over the Great Barrier Reef to a land of contrasts that did something to me that hasn't happened to me in a long time while traveling, it challenged me.

Hot, wet air greeted our touchdown on the Madang tarmac. With no time to waste, Pepper and I swiftly entered immigration. We arrived prepared with our three-page visa application, 100 PNG kina, and passport photos. I approached the PNG immigration officer, she apathetically looked at my passport and printed my bright yellow PNG visa. I asked her if she wanted my visa application, she said, "sure" and tossed to the side of her computer. I realized that I was the first person to give her one today.

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After a quick visit to the restroom where a trashcan stained with bright red blood colored betel juice spit held the door open, we were ushered into the terminal to catch our final flight to Madang on the state owned airline, Air Niugini. Gliding to the counter, we were informed that the flight had already been closed . . . 35 minutes before its' scheduled departure. Within 15 minutes, we were introduced to what PNG had for us, the unexpected. Just like that, we were going to spend our first night in what the Intelligence Unit of The Economist ranked 139 out of 140 of the least livable cities, Port Moresby.

Just when we pulled up to our hotel 35 minutes later, our Madang flight was taking off.

Welcome to PNG!

Next: Refrain From Sex, Part 1

Posted by TulsaTrot 08.07.2013 13:08 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged australia volunteerism scuba_steve papua_new_guinea plane_travel Comments (2)

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