Sunday, July 26, 2009

All things Cayman: The Weather (Part I)

WatercolorsI am sure there is a very good evolutionary reason why, as time goes on, we often tend to remember only the good things about a person, place or event. It makes life much easier and enjoyable when you remember the good times rather than dwell on the not so pleasant memories I suppose. However, it can also drive your husband crazy, especially if he has a super-duper memory and remembers all the times you complained about the neighbours or this and that at the last place, while now you have distinctly more favorable memories of the last place, and the neighbours back there were just like the Walton’s.

My husband jokingly said one day that I could always get a head start of sorts, and write down all the things I don’t like about living in the Cayman Islands so I could read it later when I start to romanticize again and wonder what ever possessed us to move....

Well, for starters, I have to get over the fact that it almost seems politically incorrect to find fault with anything here because the Cayman Islands still conjures up such romantic and exotic images in people's heads around the world. A while back I participated in a conference call where I was introduced as “Brigitte who is lucky enough to be calling in from the Cayman Islands”. No one would ever say “Brigitte who is lucky enough to be joining us from Winnipeg”.... It is very hard to shake off images like that, isn’t it, to the point where I find I have to justify liking Winnipeg whereas I would have to almost justify why I wouldn’t like the Cayman Islands. But I digress.

For the most part, many of the cliches about the Cayman Islands are very true. It’s pretty much always sunny, beautiful beaches are always within walking distance, and judging by my own experience, Caymanians are an exceedingly friendly and relaxed people. It’s still a fairly safe place to live, and you don’t really have to worry about your neighbour suing you because he tripped on a stone in your yard. One reason he wouldn’t sue you because he would be too embarassed to admit that he was not watching where he was going.....imagine that, people actually taking responsibility for their actions. I found this to be a very refreshing change from Canada, I must say.

But as my Dad likes to say – there is no such thing as paradise, and even Cayman has some aspects which I struggle with, some minor or not so minor, as well as the foreign and downright quirky ones. And some of the things that make this island so beautiful in most people's eyes can also spoil you to the point where they get on your nerves, which means this is probably a good place to start with

WEATHER

Believe it or not, constant sunshine gets to you. Before we moved here, I used to browse through various forums in which islanders provided advice to people thinking of moving to the Cayman Islands (Thank you Tess!). I distinctly remember one who said something along the lines of “we actually look forward to rainy season because then it is not always sunny”. At the time I thought that was a funny comment to make – I mean, how could you ever get tired of sunshine - but after a year I have a fairly good idea of what she means. I have been known to stand outside in the yard for minutes on end, longingly staring at a lonely dark cloud and watching it go over the house without letting go of even so much as a few droplets. As I mentioned in one of my previous blog entries, after six months of absolutely no precipitation or clouds whatsoever, I was absolutely desperate for rain or even the smell of rain.

Similarly, while I can’t say that I miss Winnipeg-style winters, I do miss the stormier cooler days sometimes – you know, when you can open a window and feel and smell the cool air rush through the house? Other than the odd day in (Caribbean) winter, the only cool air you ever feel is coming out of a little vent in your ceiling, and that pretty much the entire year.

They say this is the island time forgot, but I would also say that you forget time when you live down here because of the lack of seasons that you could use as a guide. When one sunny day merges into the next, it’s hard to remember that you should be unpacking those Christmas ornaments right about now.....and as odd as it sounds, at times it doesn’t give you much to look forward to if every days is glorious sunshine. Of course, during a hurricane, it is very windy, but then the last thing you want to do is to open your windows because your roof might fly off.

But let's face it - it really is rather hard to get sick of nice weather year-round; rather, I think I have just become very spoilt, taking for granted that I can just walk outside without having to put on three layers of clothes (and don't forget that snow shovel on the way out...). In the time I have lived here, I have heard quite a few long-time residents tell me that their children couldn't wait to leave this small island when they grew up because it was so boring, and how so many of them come back to live here. The weather is part of it too, but there is something else as well, which I can already feel taking hold of my own psyche after having spent many a dreamy afternoon at the ocean or in the garden. Down here, we are on.....to be continued


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Boot camp anyone?

Ernest sent me an e-mail the other day, with an offer that at least in theory I should find hard to refuse.

Last year, about a month or so after we had moved here, my husband came home from work and told me that one of his colleagues was taking part in a women's fitness program called "Boot Camp". I actually had some idea of what was involved as a friend of mine in Winnipeg also did at least one boot camp and spoke quite highly of this workout. Of course I somewhat neglected to remember that she was already in fairly good shape when she started, but when I went to the organiser's website here in the Cayman Islands, I was assured that this program was suitable for couch potatoes and Mr. Universe qualifiers alike.

It's not that this is not true, but obviously it takes a pretty strong sense of self to drag yourself out of bed at five o-clock in the morning, don the first pair of gym shorts you have worn since high school and try to run a lap around the track while some of your fellow boot campers are passing you on their fifth lap and not even breaking a sweat. It became quite obvious to me that our particular group consisted of a hard core of permanent boot campers who - in the words of one - "had been to a million of these", and on the other end people like me who had not done anything remotely so regimented since high school when we had to do sit-ups and chin-ups in front of the whole class...

This is where Ernest comes in - he is the owner of a local fitness studio and looks like one of those Mr. Universe qualifiers. He runs the boot camps, which start at 5:30 am, and I have to say that he did a fantastic job, considering many of us ranked this type of workout on the same scale as a visit to the dentist. No day was the same, although I can't say that any day was easier than the other, and the way he organised the program it really was possible for everyone to go at their own pace. However, he also made sure that no one slacked off, and he had an uncanny ability to know exactly what people's real limits were as opposed to what they profusely argued they could do.

For those who don't know, boot camp is a one hour workout combining cardiovascular and strength training activities in a manner that is extremely regimented and demanding, hence the name, since the original boot camps were used to train new military recruits.

We started with a few minutes of warm-ups consisting of jumping jacks and the like, and just when you thought the warm-up was enough exercise for the day because you could hardly breathe, Ernest cheerily announced it was time to run laps around the track for five minutes. Luckily, he did not actually make us run, and so many of us walked at a brisk pace while Ernest watched us closely from the sidelines, urging us on.

As well organised and well-run this program was - after four weeks I decided boot camp just wasn't for me. Partly because I dreaded getting up so early, but also because I found this style of exercise too pounding and regimented. I am not quite as averse to exercise as I perhaps let on, having done yoga and bellydance for a long time, and never once dreaded going to a class, quite the opposite. I decided my body and mind were more suited to a gentler form of exercise, and I decided not to do any more boot camps.

But Ernest is sure working hard to win me back! He just sent out an e-mail announcing that the former boot camp location has been changed - pretty much right outside of my house. And it's not a clever ploy on Ernest's part to make sure that I had no more excuses, but rather owing to the location of our house near a large church parking lot, which is now the new boot camp training location. I could literally just get up, put on my exercise gear and walk outside to start while others need to drive some way for the privilege. But I must admit it's not really that tempting. Somewhat guilt-inducing, yes, but tempting, no.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hurricane Predictions

Predicting hurricane seasons is a bit like predicting next year's global economic developments - no matter how sophisticated your models, it's always a bit of a crapshoot, although judging by what I have been reading, we seem to be somewhat better at predicting hurricane trends than economic trends. Which is a bit funny considering that much of economics is based on the assumption that people act in a very predictable and rational way, while nature is generally described as a rather capricious lady. Hmm.

In any case, now that I am actually keeping track of things like shear winds, low-potential disturbances and tropical depressions, I have learnt that hurricanes seem to occur in cycles. Specifically, in 20 or so year cycles. The last cycle of high(er) activity started around 1995, hence we are about half way through the current active cycle. And so it appears to be not just global warming which is causing an increase in hurricanes (and there are those who say it is not actually causing an increase per se, just an increase in strength), but also the fact that we are now undergoing a naturally occurring period of higher hurricane activity. Add to that the ever increasing fascination of the media with hurricanes, and it's no wonder things all of a sudden seem a lot worse than, say, 50 years ago.

But it looks like we might get a bit of a break in 2009. Over the last year we have lived here, we have come to rely on two websites to get hurricane information: www.stormpulse.com and www.wunderground.com. The former is a pretty flashy looking website with excellent tracking and GPS information, while the latter has a much more scientific feel to it, with lots of scientific articles and a blog by its founder Dr. Jeff Masters, who has a lot of expertise in this area. In his recent blog on the July hurricane outlook he mentions something I also noticed over the winter - it was very windy. Apparently this has also had an effect on sea surface temperatures:

"Stronger-than-average trade winds were observed through most of the period November 2008 - May 2009, which helped cool the tropical Atlantic substantially. Strong winds mix up colder water from the depths and cause greater evaporative cooling. ... July storms typically form when a cold front moves off the U.S. coast and stalls out, with the old frontal boundary serving as a focal point for development of a tropical disturbance. There will be one or two fronts moving off the U.S. coast over the next two weeks, and we will need to watch these for development. Wind shear is too high and SSTs are usually too cold in July to allow African tropical waves to develop into tropical storms. African tropical waves serve as the instigators of about 85% of all major hurricanes." http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html

And it also appears that another El Nino is on its way. In Manitoba, the prospect of an El Nino was not particularly welcome, as it could mean less rain and possibly droughts. Down here, the news of an El Nino has a much more positive ring to it, at least hurricane-wise:

"El Niño conditions continue to amplify over the tropical Eastern Pacific. Ocean temperatures there rose 0.5°C over the past two weeks, and are now 0.45°C above the threshold for El Niño, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (Figure 3). NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niño Watch in early June, saying "that conditions are favorable for a transition from neutral to El Niño conditions during June - August 2009". The pattern of changes in surface winds, upper-level winds, sea surface temperatures, and deeper water heat content are all consistent with what has been observed during previous developing El Niños, and latest set of mid-June runs of the El Niño computer models are almost universally calling for El Niño conditions to become well-established for the peak months of hurricane season, August - October. It is likely that Atlantic hurricane activity will be suppressed in 2009 due to the strong upper-level winds and resulting wind shear an El Niño event usually brings to the tropical Atlantic." http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html

If he is right, I won't have to rush off to stock up on cans of Vienna sausages anytime soon.