Compared to somewhat hectic 2016 as you read about in my last update, 2017 turned out to be very stable year. It was actually the first year in a while that I started and ended the year in the same place and the same job! For you as loyal reader, this means you are treated to luckily a somewhat more compact annual update this time!
Also you will have noted that adding content to my website has grounded to a halt. As I have a more office job and am on a computer all day, I have become somewhat negligent to do that in my free time. And I still have so many nice things I’d like to write about!
Living in Grand Cayman
As I said in my blog post covering my move back to the Caribbean, I expected a comfortable lifestyle but that I’d miss the variety and adventure of SE-Asia. That prediction was certainly spot-on.
Grand Cayman feels as a very first world and Western place. A lot of the big major hotel chains, nice restaurants and bars, high-end shops. With a lot of wealthy or high-earning people living here there is also no shortage in big villas and fancy cars. On the flipside the island with the massive development of the financial industry and tourism seems to have lost the little of the original culture that it may have had. At times it can all feel a bit ‘generic’ and like a little Miami.
Grand Cayman and me
How does this impact me? Well I have an ambivalent position in it. Some days I love the benefits of living in a more developed country. Everything (internet, power, bureaucracy) mostly works. I have a decent salary, normal working hours, paid vacation days, an official work permit, and pension and healthcare benefits. Nothing like that in SE-Asia! I can drive to a nice coffee shop, restaurant, cinema and enjoy the comforts of a ‘western’ lifestyle. But of all of this in the tropical Caribbean sun, and nice beaches and clear turquoise water at my doorstep. And as everybody seems to be earning decently, the tourism is pretty laid-back. Nobody is hustling you on the street to ‘come in to my shop’ or ‘buy my tour’. In that sense it feels almost like a ‘normal’ country.
But other days I miss the hustle and bustle of SE-Asia. The organized chaos that somehow always seems to work. The strong and friendly local culture. The amazing food at prices that wouldn’t even buy you a can of Coca-Cola in the Caribbean. The variety of things to do and see. Beaches, jungle, volcanos, temples, diving, surfing, bar hopping. And if you’re done with that, a multitude of budget flights available to explore new countries.
If I were to summarize it, it’s feels more like a ‘normal’ life than the somewhat hectic adventure of the past few years. But as I said in my blog post on moving here, after a very hectic 2016 I welcome this change in pace in life. It feels nice to be somewhere more settled in for a while.
A roof over my head
I mentioned when moving here finding a place to live was difficult. This as the high season was starting so a lot of seasonal workers arriving on the island. Also a big new hotel (so new staff) opened nearby the same time I arrived so that didn’t help either. I was looking for a place in West Bay, a more residential area in the NW side of Grand Cayman. There is more (affordable) housing here, and also it is best in relation to where I work. I just took the first half-decent accommodation that became available as I needed a place to live. This was a 3-bedroom condo I shared with an Italian working at a restaurant and a Scot working in construction.We shared a living room and kitchen, but each bedroom had it’s own ensuite. The location of the condo complex was quite good, not too far from shops, beach and work. However it was a bit of a basic place, and I missed some outdoor/communal area like a garden, terrace or pool. So for me it was always meant to be a temporary place, and kept an eye open for something better.
Only by the end of this year finally a worthwhile nicer place became available. A colleague (Mark) relocating back to Europe lived in it, and I had already told him I was interested to move in. It was already spoken for unfortunately. Then on the Sunday morning I was packing to fly out for a vacation I got a call from Mark’s wife that it had become available. I quickly woke up my house mate (the Scot, Paul) as we were planning to share, have a look at it, and decided to take it. So it was a quick dash to the ATM to get a deposit paid before heading to the airport!
The new place I live now has made life so much more enjoyable. It is way more roomier, and all the furnishings are just so much better in quality. The condo itself is a 2-level unit of about 115 m2 in total. The lower level is the living room and kitchen, and the top floor the two bedrooms with en-suites. Although the rent is somewhat higher, is so much better insulated that the lower electricity bills (running AC ain’t cheap!) almost pay for that. We also have a nice communal pool in the complex, with the beach just a 100 meter walk from the front door. There are also several restaurants and a supermarket within a 10 minute walk.
When I arrived in Grand Cayman I started out by buying a cheap bicycle to get around. This seeing if this would be sufficient, and while I was just feeling out how living and working here turned out to be. I was looking at getting a scooter, but unfortunately these seem to be rather theft prone so was advised again. After a few months on island and settling in, the bicycle became a bit too limited in getting around so it was time to get a car.
I’m a bit of a petrolhead, so when a Mazda MX-5 Miata popped up in the local classifieds I picked that up. It’s one of those cars that every petrolhead should try once in their life. It’s one of the last ones of the original (and most loved) model built in 1997. They’re simple cars, easy and reliable Japanese mechanicals. And with a large community of enthusiastic fans YouTube and the internet is full of tips and ‘how-to’s’ to maintain and fix them. Which was just as well, as a 20-year old ‘island car’ going from one passing dive instructor/bar staff etc to the next it needed a bit of TLC. So I got me a nice new hobby to keep me busy!
Once I had the car I start enjoying the island a lot more. It made it easier to get around and see some new parts, other beaches, and bars and restaurants.
Working in Grand Cayman
As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, I was hired by Divetech. This one of the oldest dive shops on the island with 14 staff and two locations, one seaside operational base and a retail shop & office at the Holiday Inn hotel. They have 2 dive boats and also a great shore dive location. In 2015 the company was bought by one of the long-term employees and the original owners retired. Also at the same time the dive resort the company was located at was sold which ended this partnership. So a company very much in a transitional phase, which brings some challenges but also a lot of opportunities. We are basically re-inventing the company while retaining our strengths.
Working at Divetech
I was hired as Customer Relations/Marketing/Reservations manager. A more ‘dry’ management role, but that was my goal when I looked for a new job opportunity. However starting just as the high season kicked in, and me needing to learn the ropes, my first 2 months I was mostly joining the regular crew in diving, filling tanks and shop shifts.
After New Years I started my regular job. The major part of the job is selling dive and dive & room packages. This both directly to guests, as well as on a wholesale basis to dive shops and dive travel agencies. This involves a lot of communication with all these clients. As well as the operational side of these sales, such as scheduling, working with accommodation partners, ensuring payments. On the marketing side managing social media plays an important role, as well as thinking of creative deals to attract new business. Next to that there is also the usual general office stuff to take care to run a business.
The job combines a lot of my previous corporate Marketing & Sales experience with my diving career. The biggest adjustment is that in a bigger corporate environment my focus was more strategic and hardly on the smaller ‘day to day’ activities and problems. In a smaller company these ‘day to day’ issues often have to be addressed straight away to keep things running.
As said my job is mainly a ‘dry’ position. I do have the opportunity to dive in my free time. One of the reasons that I chose to work for Divetech that we offer in-house training in both Freediving (apnea) and Technical Diving next to the regular scuba training. Especially Technical Diving was a direction I wanted to pursue.
In the middle of the year I got my Freediving certification. Diving down on a single breath of air all the way to 20 meter deep was an amazing experience, and I was hoping to push my depths further. However my left ear didn’t like the quicker pressure changes in Freediving compared to scuba, and started to play up. So I’ve decided to give Freediving a rest.
By late 2017 I also finished my first set of Technical Diving certifications. I completed my PADI Tec40/45/50 courses. This trains for depths up to 50 meters, and unlimited accelerated decompression using up to 100% Oxygen. If you don’t know what this all means, don’t worry I will write a post on this soon!
Both my Freediving and Technical Dive training were with my colleague Mark Rowe. I had been following Mark for a while online as somebody who knows his stuff. So it was really cool to be trained by him and he certainly delivered. Mark and his wife Linda also became good friends, and I was very sad to seem them leave for Europe by the end of the year. The upside was that I could move into his nice condo as mentioned earlier! Mitch and Luke, the two fellow students on my course were guys living on the island and we became friends too. We did some more dives together, but also socialized quite a bit.
Although I might have lived the whole year in one place, the wanderlust was still there. Luckliy I had some trips to attend some US dive shows to represent Divetech.
My first trip was in January to Dallas. In Dallas I stayed with James, a friend living there who I met in 2013 in Utila. We kept track over the years, and we attempted to get me to work at the shop in St Maarten he used to work at but the timelines never worked out. So it was really cool to meet up again, and catching up on old stories. James also came to the rescue when I was manning the booth at the diveshow. A slowly starting hangover after a good night out was quickly quenched by some fresh Texas BBQ brought in by James.
On the way back from Dallas I stopped by Houston to see Hein and Caren and family. They are good friends from my from Delft student days, and I had passed by them in Houston a few times before. But it had been a while since I had been over 2 years in Asia/Pacific region. So great to meet up, go for a round of golf, and BBQ and beer.
In February it was time to visit a dive show in Chicago. There Garett lived and his German girlfriend Svenja was also over. We met while I was living in the Cook Islands. I stayed at his apartment and was awesome to meet them again in a totally different place. Also I had reached out to Bart-Jan, a long-time friend who was living in Denver. His company has a HQ in Chicago, so he could easily come over. The last time I saw him was completely by chance when we were both attending a (different!) wedding in Antigua, Guatemala back in 2014. So was quite weird to walk in a restaurant in Chicago and meet again. Catching up with friends in random places over the world is always the best!
DEMA in Florida
By October I flew out to Florida to attend DEMA, one of the biggest diveshows in the world. By this time James (from Dallas) had moved to Miami, so I met him there before driving to Orlando for the show. He also attended DEMA, so we had a few good drinks there too. At DEMA I also met Timo again, a fellow crew-member from my Infinity days who was now working for another dive company. He had actually visited me in Cayman just a week before, as his company had sent him there for a week training on a dive boat. An unique moment at DEMA was seeing Sean Robinson passing by in the aisle. He was the man which I did my Open Water dive certification with way back in Tobago in 1990. So very special meeting him again as that is where it all started for me.
Vacation in Colombia
Following DEMA I flew from Orlando to Columbia, a country that had been on my list for a while. As I had just about two weeks it was only going to be a shorter ‘highlights’ trip. I started in Bogota and did some city tours both walking and biking. From Bogota I took a short internal flight to Salento, to see a bit more of the rural coffee areas. From there Medellin was next on the tour. A beautiful lively city with some interesting but black history from the ’narcos’ days. I ended my Colombia visit by walking around in the beautiful old town of the Caribbean city of Cartagena.
The trip ended back with a few days in Miami visiting James and going for a dive in Key Largo. Also Jan-Maarten, another friend from my Delft student days, was in Miami visiting his wife’s parents so we met for some lunches and drinks too.
A stable year
So as 2017 draws to a close, I can look back at quite a stable year. This in terms of job, lifestyle and living in a more developed place. This was a nice change after 4 years bouncing around the world and jobs. I also feel I have managed to progress from being ‘just a dive instructor’ to something that is becoming more like a true career. Both in dive management experience, dive experience, as well building a network in the business I have advanced more in the last year than in a long time.
Menno has had the travel bug ever since spending his childhood in the tropics. In 2013 he left his office career and is now diving and sailing the world.
He enjoys sharing the beautiful underwater world and exploring remote islands. He gets his kicks when he can help fellow travelers have an amazing life-changing experience.