Well, the email came! We could go home to our beloved Grand Cayman, after 100 days away, sweltering in place in the California desert. The only catch was that we had three days to get rid of 2-3 weeks supply of food, prepare the house for the even hotter weather to come, and get from the middle of nowhere, to Palm Springs and from there to Miami in order to catch the flight home.
After the initial reaction of “We can’t do that! That’s too soon!” we looked at each other and said “Let’s see if we can get to Miami in time.” A quick look at Google flights showed us that we could fly to Miami via Dallas the day before our flight would leave Miami for Cayman. We made the booking and we replied to the evacuation team. We definitely wanted on that flight home!
After a whirlwind of eating and drinking and giving food away, preparing the house and advising the people who needed to know, we were ready. With one day of travel to get to Miami and a night in the airport hotel, we checked in for our flight at the Cayman Airlines desk on Friday morning, June 12. That hardly describes the frantic cleaning and packing, the nearly empty airports and the stressful, fully packed flight between Dallas and Miami. We agreed that after so long alone in the desert, it was very disconcerting to be sitting among so many strangers in such close proximity on a plane. Masks were mandatory, but that wasn’t enforced. I was happy to get off that plane and to find the airport hotel.
Day 1: From the moment we checked in with Cayman Airways we felt safe and cared for. The Cayman Airways staff and crew, the government representatives who welcomed us at the airport upon our arrival in Cayman, the isolation team, all made us feel so welcome! With only about 20 people on our flight, we also felt very fortunate to have made the cut! When I looked out the window as we landed in Cayman, my heart felt very full. I had missed my island so much!
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Resort on a school bus, about 6 of us, escorted by police motorcycles with sirens going. We were welcomed with our information sheets, general rules and menus to fill out for the next few days. We were escorted to our room by security, a room which we wouldn’t leave again until we were tested for Covid 19 in two weeks time. The room was on the second floor, but we had to use the stairs.
The rules: No alcohol, smoking, vaping, weapons or illegal substances. We were not allowed to leave our room or have visitors. The necessities of life would be provided: food, water, shelter, and soap. Was this going to be “house arrest” or a staycation, or something in between?
The room was a lovely one bedroom suite with a full sized kitchen, dining area, sitting area, large bathroom, a bedroom, and a very large outdoor balcony. We had a view of the sea and the swimming pool. (Which we couldn’t use because we couldn’t leave our room!) We ordered from menus provided by Mis en Place, a very good catering service on the island. There were always two choices for breakfast and three for lunch and dinner. There was always a vegan option. We could put out our garbage and also any laundry we needed done, as long as the bags were marked with the room number. We also had a washer dryer unit in our suite, which we used for personal laundry.
That first night we settled in, getting in touch with our families to let them know we’d made it back, and with our friends on the island asking what we might need for our time in quarantine.
Day 2: Ask and ye shall receive. We had a delivery at our door of local Paradise coffee for brewing, mangoes, laundry detergent, and homemade beer bread with a honey butter spread. It was so overwhelming, on top of the storm of emotions from the past few days, to feel so loved.
Anyone in quarantine could have family and friends drop things off at the reception area, marked with their names and room number, and it would be delivered to the room. They only had to adhere to the schedule; 9 to 11 AM and 2 to 5 PM. I hope that everyone had as much support as we did and I suspect that there were many people with family on island, anxiously waiting for them to come home.
We even saw our friends! They asked where to go and a staff member showed them how to come and see us. It was the first time we’d seen them in about 4 months and these were the friends who helped me get through the isolation and being locked out of our island home.
There was a possible “breach”. Someone may have got into the facility from outside, probably missing family after so long! There was also an incredibly loud fire alarm, but it stopped and we were told to stay in our rooms.
Day 3: I could feel myself relaxing. I’d felt incredibly overwhelmed in the previous days, as I mentioned. I realized that for the entire time that the Cayman Islands borders had been closed, I’d been holding in more than I’d known. I had been constantly looking for options to staying where we were. We had been managing the food supply and the shopping trips with such care and precision, that even the question “What should we eat tonight?” felt like a test. That question would immediately trigger mental estimates of what was in the freezer, what must be used, what the weather forecast was, which would impact what we’d feel like preparing in our desert heat without air conditioning.
By Day 3, I thought, This is very relaxing! This could be a Staycation! I had no trouble filling the time. I’m used to being home and especially after the long time away, I’ve become good at entertaining myself. We didn’t have to think about meals. There was a knock at the door and our meals were there waiting for us. They were very good meals, usually more than enough food. We had coffee and we had mangoes and baking. Some wine would have been nice, but I couldn’t complain. It’s lovely to sit outside, day or night. We were on the “cool” side of the building, which meant it was the perfect temperature. We could glimpse the sunrise if we woke up by 5:45.
Most likely some people, especially if they were alone, or maybe also if they were not getting along with their quarantine roommate, did not enjoy quarantine. I found it restful. For two weeks I didn’t have to make any decisions or worry about what to eat or drink. The food was good. Our friends continued to bring mangoes and other treats to make life more interesting. We began to have “happy hour” with a glass of sparkling water with lime. I was perfectly happy to let someone else take care of us for two weeks.
The hotel had music coming from the direction of the pool bar, so I enjoyed sitting on our balcony listening while I read, or while I watched the outside world go by, quiet as it was.
Day 7: After a week, some things changed. We could see temporary workers who were also staying at the hotel, and they would go to the pool every day. I started to feel envy. They would gather at the gazebo by the pool on the weekend and they all had their beer or wine with them. At first I thought it was fun to see people out enjoying the beautiful setting, but the second weekend I resented them, just a little.
One day while we were chatting from the balcony, our friends were told that they shouldn’t be there. Two days later, while dropping off mangoes, more friends were told that visitors were no longer allowed back in the courtyard.
Those were minor irritations. Generally, I continued to enjoy the quiet and having meals with no effort. We didn’t have to make them or clean up dishes afterwards. We only had to tick off boxes on our respective menus. It was nice to have nothing to take me away or distract me from what I was doing. I completed an online course. I did yoga. I read. I wrote. I studied languages and I chatted with friends online every day. Sure, there was a RCIPS officer patrolling the hotel grounds, and a security guard in our hallway. We had no reason to leave the room. We’d be free soon enough.
There was a Whatsapp group set up among those of us who’d arrived together. It was useful for sharing information and asking questions like, “Is there breakfast today?” Sometimes we had new delivery staff and they might miss a room. The coordinator could send us messages like “False alarm. Stay in your rooms,” when the fire alarm went off a second time.
On Day 14 we were advised that we’d be tested on the following day, a Saturday, starting at 10 AM. There were detailed instructions on what to do when we were called.
On Day 15 we were tested. We were waiting for breakfast, wondering if we’d have time to eat before the tests, when we got the call to come downstairs and outside. Just as we were leaving, the breakfast arrived so we put it away while we went downstairs. There was another couple ahead of us, but we didn’t have to wait long. That was all by about 9:15!
The test is like a “brain tickle” or a sinus scrape, depending on your point of view, I guess. We were told that results would take 24 hours at least, but by dinner that evening we had our phone call. We were both negative and free to go. We could stay the night if we wanted, but we decided to finish our packing and go. It was a bit of a shock to be expecting to stay the night and suddenly be told we could go home. They even offered to call us a taxi.
I can’t say enough about how well-run the flights home and the quarantine were. I can’t speak for those whose arrangements were made later, but the National Emergency Operations Committee (NEOC) was in charge of ours and it was a model of efficiency. We always felt safe. We felt like we mattered and apart from the occasional glitch, the time in quarantine couldn’t have gone more smoothly.
We left our room and the hotel and stood outside, watching the setting sun, waiting for our taxi and watching our fellow inmates depart. I thought of the chat group and I think I was able to put some names to faces we hadn’t completely seen before. Maybe they’d been on our flight, fully masked, but that felt like a lifetime ago.
When we arrived at home and stepped inside, the feeling of being home hit me all over again. We’d left it clean and organized, but we’d left believing we’d be back in a few weeks. Instead, it was nearly four months to the day since we’d left. It was a great relief to find it smelling pleasantly familiar and clean, with nothing rotting in the cupboards and no pests having free reign.
We couldn’t go on our deck because the hurricane shutters had been locked up tight and we weren’t ready to mess with them when it was dark outside. Instead, we went out to the pool and looked out at the sea. My heart felt like it was back where I belonged.
We’ve been home now for almost as long as we’d been away, and there are things that would normally have taken us back to Canada by now, if not for this global pandemic and lockdowns and quarantines. When I feel down about being unable to join our families; in celebrations, in grieving, and just because; I remember that feeling. I appreciate every sunset and every little change in the sea that makes it so wondrous to watch every day. I’ve always been happy to return home after travelling, but this last return was like rediscovering a long lost love. We’re home.