We see palm trees, hear birds, and feel the heat, but this isn’t our island. I have vivid mountain sunrises, instead of brilliant sunsets on the sea. We can’t see the sea.We’re stranded on a desert oasis in California.

We left our Paradise, our rock of Grand Cayman, on February 29, expecting to return on March 26. We had been travelling a lot last year and we were planning to spend most of our time at home for the rest of this year. We were looking forward to a family visit from our daughter and son and their respective significant others, later in April. We were expecting a friend to visit shortly after that. Then, a global pandemic happened.

We come to the California desert every year in March to watch the Indian Wells tennis tournament. It’s such a great place to watch some great tennis; see the stars of today and the future; to sit in the sun and sometimes to meet with friends who have come south to get away from the late lingering winter in Canada. The Palm Desert area is great for shopping and eating, and sometimes we even take a break from tennis to do both. When our friends are there, we also take more time off for sightseeing in the Palm Springs area.

This year, I hadn’t even returned from my quick little side trip to Canada; the tournament qualifying rounds hadn’t even finished; the top seeds had barely had time to warm up on the practice courts, when the tournament was cancelled. Covid 19 had come to the Coachella Valley. The demographics of the area are composed of a lot of “vulnerable” people. At that time so little was known yet about the virus, but Italy was in the midst of the worst of it and Spain not far behind.

If you’ve followed the pandemic in the Caribbean at all, you’ll know that the Cayman Islands was quick to close their borders. They started with the cruise ports and schools, and a few days later, they announced the closure of the airport. We didn’t have time to change our flights. The last flights came in March 19 and the last flights left on March 22. The closure was announced on March 16. Airlines could hardly cope with the number of calls and the flights they had to change, not only to Cayman, but all over the world.

Only a few days earlier, the Canadian government had announced that Canadians should return home, and that anyone entering the country would have to isolate themselves for 2 weeks. This was also announced retroactively in Cayman, but not long after, they opened up a government quarantine facility at the empty hotels. Flights in and out of Cayman were arranged to take people home and to bring Caymanians and Permanent Residents back. Most of this effort seemed to be on the UK, whether for students returning from there, or for anyone able to get to London from Europe and other places. The phrase “air bridge” became part of the governor’s daily speech in the press briefings.

We looked at what was happening in Cayman and in Canada and we looked at what we had here. In Cayman; isolation, curfews, shelter in place; in Canada; similar but without the curfew. As Canadians, we had the option to go to Canada. However, we are not residents and we have no home or property there. Thinking the Cayman airport was closed for 3 weeks, we decided to wait it out in the desert. Not surprisingly, that was extended to May 31, then to August 31. We’re still waiting it out.

At first, this seemed like a great place to be spending a global lock down. We have room to move around without running into people outside. We have a shared strata pool that is cleaned regularly. We are in a house with lots of space and if it gets too hot, we have air conditioning (or so we thought). Once we decided to stay here for “a few more weeks” it became a bit of an adventure. We saw birds and wildlife that we hadn’t seen here before. The cactus blossoms were more diverse than earlier in the spring. The golf course closed briefly, enabling us to walk on the course. We shop at the local store and had fun searching our own freezer and pantry to see what other people had left behind. It was, as many people had remarked, like an extended episode of Chopped:Isolation edition. We had fun with the very well stocked bar, although we initially had to ration wine. Hard liquor consumption went up and wine consumption went down. We seemed to be much better off than most of our friends and families in isolation.

Right, well that was over two months ago. We thought we had air conditioning. The air conditioner is old and doesn’t work very well, if at all. The temperatures, which were initially below average for the season, soared at the beginning of May and dropped to normal again. We’re now in another heat wave, with an extreme heat warning for the area. “Sweltering in place” has become my sign off/ hashtag.

No problem, I said, still trying to stay positive. I wake up early, while it’s still cool outside. We leave windows open at night to let the heat out. At least here we can still use the pool, whereas in Cayman, strata pools were closed. In Canada we wouldn’t have a place to live, never mind a pool. Here I can walk at sunrise, then go cool off in the swimming pool. In Cayman they were under curfews and sometimes hard lock-downs. I had a great routine here, but it had to keep changing with the weather and the fluctuating population.

You see, this tiny little desert town is a tourist attraction. Many people come here from San Diego or even farther away, like Oregon. Suddenly the isolated nature, the vast desert, were even more appealing and people had more time off and they needed some space after being home together for days on end. The weekends became times for us to avoid town and the swimming pool. I could still go swim early, but I didn’t dare delay by a half hour or there would be someone there, making distancing very difficult.

Memorial Day is usually the end of the season in the desert. It simply gets too hot for normal human life to exist here.  “Normal human life” seems to have a new meaning. I haven’t seen any decrease in the number of people, especially since the golf course reopened. Unfortunately, the population of wildlife has exploded.

The pool has become of great attraction to ducks, rodents, a rabbit, and most recently a snake. The ducks would hang around, using the pool as a toilet. The rodents, rabbit and snake all drowned before I met them, giving me a chance to play “pool cleaner” in the early morning. Last week, when I’ve checked the pool in the morning, it has been filthy and the water cloudy. I know the cleaner was here and I know he threw in about 3 kinds of chemicals, so I have to blame the cloudiness on the heat and the increased use during, and since Memorial Day weekend. So much for the “end” of the desert season!

Meanwhile, in Cayman, pools are open again. The beaches are open for exercise which includes walking, running, swimming, snorkelling. They are doing extensive testing, and although they have small numbers of positive, asymptomatic cases, they haven’t seen anyone with symptoms come forward since April 27. There is no one in hospital. The curfews and “shelter in place” orders are easing and businesses gradually opening up as they are here.

So why are we still here, nearly 3 months later and exactly 2 months after our scheduled flight home?  Cayman has been our sole residence, our only home for 5 and 1/2 years. Yet, after sending email to the hotline and registering using the online form, TWICE, we have heard nothing from the government or from the governor’s office, who is arranging these flights. The rest of the world is gradually coming out of lockdown, including the area we’re in, but we are kind of stuck here, locked out.

Some good news came in the latest press briefing when the governor announced more flights at the end of June and beginning of July. These are evacuation flights again and he didn’t mention whether or not they would be taking residents back to Cayman. We’ll quarantine at home if you let us come back! We promise!

I haven’t quite figured out how they know that quarantine will be full that far ahead, when they aren’t taking anyone back to the island.If we have to, we could be in Miami in a day, but we need another day to shut down this house for the summer. It’s a bit like winterizing your cottage in Canada. If only it was as simple as closing up hurricane shutters and locking the door as we do with our condo at home. It will take us at least a few days to organize the food in the freezer and pantry, because we really can’t leave it here unattended in the desert heat. We need a little notice to make those flights, if there are any more flights.

We might have to take matters into our own hands. I don’t know how, but to paraphrase a song I’ve come to enjoy working out to, “You can’t go home, but you can’t stay here.” This isn’t our country. We are neither citizens nor residents here. We are visitors and our time here is nearly up.

I’m trying to stay positive and remember that I live in paradise and I can be there soon. I just don’t know how, or when. I miss my friends and my life there. I want to go back to volunteering at school and with my friends. I want to go back to being an avid supporter of the arts scene. I want to order out from our favourite restaurants. I want to join my friends in helping the local businesses stay alive while they wait for tourism to return. I don’t want to wait and go back with the tourists. I want to go to the beach and snorkel and swim in the sea!

Hurricane season begins on June 1, officially. If we do make it on one of those returning emergency flights we’ll be flying into hurricane season. We’ve done that plenty of times. It’s where we live.

In February, we experienced our first Cayman earthquake. In March, from Victoria, Canada, I watched on a Cayman news feed, in constant communication with my friend while she was evacuated from her home due to the smoke from a major dump fire. Later that month I watched Cayman close their borders when Covid 19 started ravaging the world. Earthquake, fire, no problem!  Pandemic? This is going to be a long rebuilding process. I want to go home and support my community.

I want to sit on my balcony and gaze out at the sea, wine glass in hand, look hurricane season in the eye and say, Don’t You Dare!

Update: On June 9 we received word that there was space for us on the June 12 flight from Miami to Grand Cayman. After a little bit of “How on earth will we ever get this place closed up and get to Miami?” we got to work and we’re heading to Cayman on Friday. Stay tuned!

 

Written By:

Gail M

Current Rock of Residence:

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Island Girl Since:

2014

Originally Hails From:

Calgary, Canada

Gail is a retired dietitian, sometime writer, and mom of two wonderful grown-ups. She and her husband of 27 years moved to Grand Cayman in late December of 2014. After years of visiting their condo and quietly moving their household belongings in suitcases, they put their plan to permanently escape cold weather into motion, leaving their children homeless.

Gail spends her time pinching herself and acting as amateur part time travel agent. She would love to spend more time on what her friends call “Gail’s Island,” but few members of the family visit, so she and her husband have to go see them in Canada. So much for avoiding the cold weather! When people do visit, Gail is in her element, visiting stingrays, diving, snorkeling, and playing tourist along with her guests.

Her days revolve around studying languages, swimming, yoga, and food. She and her husband love music and travel, and they love to eat, cook, sample wine, and watch tennis and soccer (or football, as they say on the island). Sometimes they are able to combine all of these in one trip, but they are always thrilled to come home to their little patch of paradise, clean the iguana poo off the deck, and enjoy island life.

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