Tag Archives: Bermuda

Dear Me, One Year Ago

21 Oct

Right now you’ll be at the airport, saying goodbye to parents. You’ll feel emotional, but it still hasn’t sunk in that you’re not just going on holiday for a few weeks. It’s a bizarre sensation, almost like a dream. Everything seems familiar – the rituals of watching the flight departure screens, buying a paperback for the beach, anticipating the sunshine at your destination – but it’s not quite as it should be.

When you arrive it’ll be dark; your eyes will be glued to the taxi window, taking in the black shadows of palm trees, the pavements bathed in amber light and, beyond, the dark waves of the ocean. Straight away you’ll unpack, in the mind-set that you need to make the most of your time here because you’ll be back to reality soon.

The next few weeks will be a delightful novelty – playing housewife in the mornings, exploring in the afternoons, returning to make sure dinner is ready for the hubby when he gets back from work. The temporary apartment will be comfortable enough, but you’ll find it a little tired and you’ll grow increasingly intolerant of the little pile of dead ants that mysteriously appear in the kitchen every morning.

So it’ll feel like Christmas when your shipment arrives in your new condo. Mundane things will seem unexpectedly special; UK carrier bags will no longer just be functional but hugely sentimental – “Ah, Sainsbury’s! Remember when we used to do our weekly shop on a Saturday there?” You’ll be just as thrilled to see your teatowels as you will your shoes. Then it will actually be Christmas – the tree will be up, your parents will be here, and you’ll have a fun but bizarre festive period, with Christmas morning against the backdrop of a white beach in place of the usual backdrop of a white-frosted lawn. The year will finish brilliantly with fireworks and cocktails, and you’ll feel excited about what 2011 will bring.

Winter arrives. You’ll get a job offer – which is fantastic – but have to wait almost 3 months for the work permit. The weather cools, the sky is permanently grey and there is little to do at weekends. You’ll be doing your best to carve out a role for yourself volunteering, but it takes longer than you’d (unreasonably) expected and you’ll worry you might be losing brain cells on a daily basis. You won’t have anticipated this feeling of being without an anchor, of not quite knowing what your place in this new world is. You’ll cry sometimes.

In April, after 9 weeks of waiting, you’ll find out that your work permit has been rejected. At first, you’ll think, “Oh well, it is what it is”. Then later it will hit you. You cannot work here. You have no job back home. You have no career options. Everything you had planned has just vanished, like a gust of wind just scooped up your dreams and carried them away. You’ll feel like there’s an amazing life here in Bermuda, but there’s a layer of plastic between you and it. You can see it, but you can’t quite touch it. You’ll cry a bit more.

Then summer comes along. The turquoise ocean sparkles, the sun beams down every day. Your volunteering tasks turn into meaty projects you feel passionate about, and love doing. Friends will fall into place. Weekends will be spent on the beach or playing in the water. You can’t quite believe that this paradise is where you live. You’ll wake up every day basking not only in sunshine, but in happiness – deep-rooted blissful happiness; thankful that you have the opportunity to live in a tropical climate, privileged that you can make a difference through your charity work, hopeful that this is how life will continue. You’ll feel something shift and instinctively know, somehow, that something good is just around the corner.

And it will be because, 11 months after you first arrived, you’ll get a work permit, and a job that you love. By the time you get to next October, you’ll feel like life could not be much better, and will be incredibly grateful for every day in your job, and every evening with your group of fabulous friends. Your only wish will be this – that someone could have written to you a year ago, telling you to be thankful for what you have, and patient for what is to come.

Home is Where the Sofa is

12 Oct

A few weeks ago, Rich came home from the supermarket with a face full of bad news. Our landlords were selling the condo. My head became jumbled with questions: should we move out straight away or wait until they sell? What if we can’t find anywhere as nice as our current home? What if we can’t find anywhere at all – we have no family here to stay with in the meantime! I thought back to when we’d first moved in; the living room filled with our 73 boxes from the UK, and shuddered at having to pack it all back up again and then unpack somewhere new after less than a year.

It certainly would be a huge convenience. But this worry gave way to something else – sadness. When we’d first moved in everything was still unfamiliar and uncertain – but our home was our fixed point for our emotional compass. I’d learned over the months that the unidentified black shapes on the carpet did not need to be interrogated for 3 pairs of legs – they were just pieces of lint; I knew that the dishwasher wouldn’t leak if I left it running when I went out; I trusted that my house wouldn’t let cockroaches creep in; that the closets would stand firm in keeping the mould from getting its dusty fingers on our clothes. In short, we trusted these four walls.

Your home is always a place of comfort and this is even more the case when you’re living abroad. On this island, there are no other buildings which we have as strong a bond with; none have memories of birthday parties, Saturday nights in or Christmases past; none have parents, or grandparents inside.

Thankfully we discovered that our contract is binding until November 2012, and so anyone who buys the condo before then will have to take us on too! It was an enormous relief to know that I wouldn’t have to give up home just yet. And for Rich? It was an enormous relief for him to know that he wouldn’t have to give up the L-shaped sofa just yet! 🙂

What do you do?

2 Oct

Invariably, when I meet new people, one of the first questions I get asked is: “What do you do?” It’s a common conversation starter of course, and it’s even more logical to ask in Bermuda, where most twenty-something expats are here because they are on a work permit. I’ve often wondered whether I’m the only twenty-something expat without one!

My answer used to be simply that “I volunteer”. It wasn’t unusual for people to assume that this meant that I shook a donations bucket outside the supermarket once a month, and then spent the rest of the time on the beach drinking G&Ts. So my answer became a garbled protestation that “I volunteer with three charities, and actually it’s like the equivalent of a full time job without getting paid, and I really don’t like G&Ts”. After a while, even I got bored of my defensiveness, so I just made up jobs – I was an accountant, an insurance underwriter, and a management consultant all in a period of about a month.

I have loved my volunteering work and it certainly has kept me busy. I’ve written communications strategies, delivered workshops on social media, organised corporate fundraising events and, my favourite project, taught a little group of senior citizens how to use the computer. In the office of the charity I volunteer with most regularly – The Centre on Philanthropy – I have my own desk, email account and responsibilities. But I’ve hated not earning my own money.

The Centre on Philanthropy's Give Back Games 2011: waiting to collect the scores for the Sack Race! We raised $72,000 for local charities.

However, after eleven months of being on the island, one rejected work permit, and an encounter with an agency that discovered after two months that my paperwork had actually “gone missing”; the “third time lucky” adage came true. Last week I got my work permit through for temporary and contract roles. A few days later I was offered a marketing role for a telecoms company. I start tomorrow!

I cannot tell you how excited I am to start work. Bring on the Sunday evening blues, the daily commute in rush hour, the overflowing inbox… – I’m ready for it all!

On Friday, my last day of unemployment, I kept my diary clear so I could do the one thing I hadn’t allowed myself to do in almost a year of being here – spend a few hours at the beach, on a weekday! The sky was a perfect blue, the sun shone, and, as I walked along the shore, iced tea in hand, the waves rushed up to greet me, as if to say “what took you so long..?”

10 Things I Love About Bermuda

25 Jul

Summer has arrived in Bermuda! After a rainy, quiet winter of uncertainty about my new home, the summer has shown me Bermuda at its best, and I’ve come to love it. Here are my top 10 reasons why:

1. Waking up to sunshine: Every morning we wake up in a bedroom bathed in sunlight. When I pull back the curtains to greet the new day, I see tall palm trees against a cloudless blue sky. No day can be that bad when it starts this way!

2. Every weekend is a holiday: Come Saturday, we’re free of our job and volunteering commitments, so we scoot to the beach, lay in the sunshine, hang out with friends, and feel like we’re on holiday – every weekend!

3. Pink sand: Our nearest beach has pink sand, created from the shells of red sea creatures which live on the coral reefs. Every time we head down to the ocean, the sight of the pink beach and the bright turquoise water takes my breath away.

4. Honking means “hello”: In the UK, a honk of a car horn generally means an aggressive obscenity. Here it means hello! And if there’s traffic because some bozo is holding everyone else up, everyone just waits patiently. There’s no road rage here, just chilled out commuters enjoying the views.

5. Tastes of England: From Cadbury’s chocolate to red post boxes, there are little tastes of home to pick me up whenever I’m feeling a bit homesick. I was ridiculously excited to find one supermarket selling Cadbury’s Cream Eggs at Easter! It’s funny how trivial things that you have in abundance at home become a huge source of happiness when you’re in a strange land.

6. Stunning scenery: The white beaches and bright blue ocean; the parks filled with oleander and hibiscus; the rows of pastel-painted houses topped with bright white roofs; and the palm trees silhouetted against the sunset… Bermuda has a unique beauty which I still haven’t got used to after almost a year of living here.

7. Tree frogs: They seem to be one of the noisiest creatures on the planet, but they are incredibly cute. The size of your thumbnail, these teeny-tiny frogs use their whole bodies to make a squeak as loud as your fire alarm. They prove that you can make yourself heard no matter what your size! Who knew amphibians could be so inspiring?

8. Positive spin on rain: Rain water is our tap water, so wet weather is always welcome in Bermuda because raindrops fill up our tanks. If we haven’t had rain for a few months, people are overjoyed when the sky clouds over and the rain pours down the limestone roofs, into our underground storage units, all ready for us to shower in or cook with the next day.

9. The USA is just a short plane ride away: We can be in Boston or New York or Miami in just two hours, on a flight as cheap as chips.

10. The ocean: Most weekends we are either in it or on it. From swimming and snorkelling to boating and kayaking, the ocean is like a giant playground! There is an incredible amount of sea turtles and tropical fish in vibrant colours to spy, and thanks to the warm waters around us, we were also able to go whale watching in spring – an amazing experience.

What would be in your top 10 “loves” for where you live?

Anyone for Tennis?

19 Jul

A few weeks ago, I started taking tennis lessons. For those who know me, you’ll understand that this is a bit like Mike Tyson announcing that he’s learning how to play the piccolo. PE was the one subject at school that I hated. Each week I’d pray that all of the teachers had got locked inside their office, that my kit had been stolen, or best of all, that I’d break my leg – resulting in weeks or even months of no PE!

But, here I was on the way to my first lesson, in my shorts that said Reebok, and my top which said FILA. I felt a little bit like I was going to a fancy dress party. (“Oh, you’ve come as a person that plays sport! How comical!”) I feared that my tennis teacher would take one look at my “costume” and realise that I was an imposter.

But he didn’t. He took me seriously. He asked me if I was hoping to get to a competitive level. I looked at him like he was loopy. He just looked back, waiting for my answer.

During my first lesson I apologised every time I missed the ball (often) or held my racquet the wrong way (constantly). I waited for him to wince, or hold his head in his hands, or look up to the sky and ask why God had punished him with such an inept student. But he didn’t do any of these things. He was patient, and kind, and encouraging, and funny. He acted as if there was some hope that, maybe one day in the future, I might be good enough to actually play!

Now I miss the ball slightly less and only hold my racquet the wrong way half of the time. My classes take place by the ocean, on courts bathed in sunshine, surrounded by palm trees. If I’d ever contemplated learning at home, (and, yes, pigs would have needed to have mutated into the flying kind first) I probably would have learned on a court in an echoey sports hall, surrounded by sickly-coloured walls and smells of feet. I don’t think I would have lasted long.

So why, after years of praying for broken limbs, am I now paying for PE? Because, as an expat, there’s no point trying to keep up the same social habits you had at home. Why come to a different country if you want everything to be the same? Here the lifestyle is outdoors, active, and sporty. You can either join in or miss out. So I’m pulling on my trainers and stepping out into the sunlight!

I’m taking classes at Elbow Beach. For more information and rates, please see: http://elbowtennisbda.com/

Sightseeing and Snorkelling

4 Jul

We’ve been continuing to wear our tourist hats, thanks to a recent visit from my parents. It’s always lovely to show family and friends this new place called home, and Bermuda is particularly beautiful in the summer, when the oleanders are in bloom, the ocean is bright turquoise and it’s warm enough to scoot around in your shorts – even if it rains!

View from Gibbs Hill Lighthouse

Over the last few weeks we’ve visited Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in Southampton and breathed in the incredible views from the top; we’ve stood across the world’s smallest drawbridge in Somerset; and we’ve rambled through nature trails and remains of historic forts.

We finished off my parents’ trip with a snorkelling extravaganza weekend! On Saturday we pootled around Tobacco Bay in St George’s parish – a beautiful spot for snorkelling as the water is calm and enclosed by lots of rocks. There were a whole host of tropical fish swimming around us, nonplussed by the sight of a couple of large human creatures wearing ridiculous eye masks and making “meee!” sounds each time a new fish was spotted!

Captain Cumbers at the wheel!

On Sunday we hired a boat and cruised around for the afternoon, stopping where we fancied for a quick swim before zooming off again. Rich and my dad snorkelled around an 1800s shipwreck poking out of the water, and then later we all went for a swim and spied more vibrant fish and a couple of lobsters hanging out under a rock.

The Vixen Shipwreck, sunk in 1896

Previously I’d only snorkelled in the pools of Discovery Cove in Florida – where there are a number of fish and stingrays to swin with in an authentic-looking pool of rock and sea plants, but of course it’s artificial. Here were sea creatures in their natural habitat, darting through anemones, nibbling snacks off sea plants and whizzing through gaps in the rocks as if they were playing a giant game of Tag. I couldn’t believe this whole other world existed beneath my feet, a world I’d been missing each time I’d swum in an ocean without opening my eyes below the surface. It was a feeling akin to crunching snow beneath your feet for the first time, or riding a new roller-coaster – an exhilarating experience!

I could try and write about the beautiful scenes I saw at Tobacco Bay but I know I wouldn’t do it justice. Instead here’s a clip of just one of the videos Rich took with his new Go Pro Camera. Blue Planet, eat your heart out!

We hired our boat from Dreamcatchers, based at Barr’s Bay Park in Hamilton. The boat comes with an ice box, stereo, emergency equipment and noodles for floating around in the ocean!

A Ramble in the Jungle

17 Jun

Shortly after we’d arrived in Bermuda, I bought a copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to the island for a dollar in a second-hand shop. I thought it would be useful for our visitors over the coming year. It didn’t really occur to me that it might be useful for us to read. I’d presumed that, as we were living here, we would see and hear about places to go. But, for some reason, Bermuda doesn’t seem to work this way.

As I mentioned in my last post, Rich and I have made a conscious vow to be better tourists in our local area. So last weekend I pulled out the guide books and maps, and started planning.

An hour later we began our ramble through Tom Moore’s Jungle. Tom Moore was a 19th century Irish poet who lived in Bermuda in the early 1800s. His jungle has reportedly remained in the same condition as the rest of Bermuda was 400 years ago, giving an idea of the island’s raw beauty, before tarmac and cement came along and cut chunks of nature away to accommodate modern man’s needs.

Our ramble to begin with reminded me of our lovely walks that we used to take in the Hampshire forests; lots of dappled sunlight and shiny green leaves. We strolled along the worn path, breathing in the warm air and enjoying the relaxing stroll, until the path ended abruptly with a drop of about ten feet. Rich being brave and nimble and long-legged hopped down the rocks with ease. After a few attempts of going down frontways, then backways, I settled for the ever-so-graceful sliding down on my bum approach. To be honest, I nearly waved the white flag and suggested we go to the beach instead. But I’m so glad I persevered, because we found an absolute gem of a sight shortly afterwards.

As some of the trees cleared, there on the left was a large cave. We headed in cautiously and stopped, our breaths snatched away and lodged somewhere in between the hundreds of huge stalagtites. There was a pool of beautiful blue, still water – an underground lake. And here it was, just sitting in the jungle. There was no $15 dollar entry fee, or queue to get in, or gift shop at the end with cuddly stalagmites for sale (not sure they actually sell those, but you get my point). We felt like explorers who had just discovered a new bit of land. We vowed to come back another time and take a swim.

Thankfully our ramble back was much easier to navigate – no bum sliding manoeuvres or clinging onto branches for dear life – and we found another (outdoor) lake filled with crystal-clear water and tropical fish, just pootling around, flashing their electric blue fins and stripy tails. Another gem just waiting to be discovered! And it was so much more rewarding to find these things on our own – without signposts or marshals or roped off bollards to guide us there.

If you’re in Bermuda and want to ramble through Tom Moore’s Jungle, make your way to Flatt’s Village (where the Aquarium is) and take a right onto Harrington Sound Road (if coming from the west of the island). If you’re coming from the east, turn off by the Swizzle Inn towards Crystal Caves, follow the road past the Crystal Caves and keep going.

The turning is marked by two pillars either side of the road and is signposted Tom Moore’s Tavern. If you want to take our adventurous bum-sliding route, park at the Nature Reserve sign and take the path right by the sign. The path will come to a fork – we went left. If you prefer the idea of staying on your feet the whole time, park in the Tom Moore’s Tavern car park, and take the path which is found on the left, past the bike parking area (as you are looking at the Tavern from the front). When you get to a Y junction, take the left path and this will lead you round to the cave. Happy rambling!