2 Gringos in the Caribbean charts the daily lives of Byron and Polly Selman, who relocated to the Turks and Caicos Islands from the USA. While the individual logs are fun to read, the stand-out feature is the stunning photography of the island. The couple took time out from a surprisingly busy island life to tell Caribbean Culture about their blog.
Can you give a brief summary of your “previous life” before coming to the Turks and Caicos islands (TCI)?
Originally from Texas, Byron was based on Cape Cod for many years and Polly, a Southern Californian, has vacationed near there for most of her life, but previously lived in New Hampshire, Wyoming, Hawaii and Pennsylvania before getting into the medical software business in New Jersey. She graduated from the University of Hawaii with a degree in Environmental Geography.
Byron’s career was in oceanography and undersea acoustic systems for the military, energy and scientific communities. He traveled worldwide for companies in Texas, California, Massachusetts and the United Kingdom. He moved to New Jersey for a couple of years before they made the big move to the small island.
You left the US in 2005 and relocated in the TCI. Why the move, and why the TCI?
We could paraphrase the old weather cliché and say that everybody talks about making lifestyle changes but nobody ever really does anything about it. Well, we did. We realized that we could live anywhere with a good internet connection and access to an international airport. We each felt that we’d thoroughly explored life in the northeastern portion of the USA, and that they no longer needed our help shoveling snow or scraping ice. Polly’s family had been vacationing in the TCI for many years, and after a couple of visits Byron also fell in love with the incomparable ocean here. We already had friends in the islands, knew our way around, and decided to give the expat life in a small tropical island nation a try.
After you started posting photos on forums, people requested more, and the blog started in June 2007. How has it grown?
This blog started as a result of requests from forum readers. That may be an unusual way to start one, by request. At the time we really didn’t even know what a “web log” was but we decided to give it a try. Nothing ventured etcetera. The readership numbers change seasonally, but typically we’re seeing between 400 and 800 page views a day. It peaks after a fresh post, and when we have something interesting going on like posting during hurricanes. We’ve had at least a few visitors from just about every country in the world. We get emails from all over the planet every week, and have met quite a few people personally as a result of the blog.
The blog covers your house build, sailing, diving, fishing and the island around you. Did you set yourself any guidelines about what or whom you cover? Do you find that maintaining the blog makes you see the island differently?
We just try to describe what our typical life is like here. We do try to keep the blog suitable for children and we tend to stay away from controversial subjects like politics and religion. There are plenty of places on the internet for people who want to argue philosophies. We also understand that our descendents will be the first people in history with this level of information on their ancestors. We’d like to leave a blog that will make our great-great-grandchildren proud to have known us.
I liked the line where you said that living in the tropics, you need to be equal parts handyman and mechanic. How well prepared were you and is there anything that has caught you out since you moved there, such as the bureaucracy etc.?
We thought we were prepared. And we were wrong. It’s not difficult to convince oneself that moving away to a tropical island will turn your life into a beer advertisement with hammocks in the shade of a palm tree on the beach. And there is a strong element of that from time to time. But living on a small island full time is way different than a week at an all-inclusive resort. Things fall apart faster here due to a combination of intense sunlight and the salty atmosphere. We’re a long way from suppliers on the mainland so home, automobile and boat maintenance are logistically difficult with much higher costs. Little things add up. Bugs and weeds never stop growing here, and rust never sleeps. And it’s expensive to live in a place where everything is imported. There are bureaucratic issues to be dealt with, but that’s probably always the case in moving from one country to another. There are cultural differences, and some priorities change with the lifestyle. For a typical North American to be happy here requires flexibility, patience, and a good sense of humor.
What is the best aspect of TCI life? And the worst? How does it differ from the other Caribbean islands?
The best aspects of life here for us are the ocean and the people. There’s a temptation to add the warm weather to that, but the weather turns out to be a mixed blessing at times. The scenery in the photos we put on the blog pretty much speaks for the photogenic quality of the water here. And the people are some of the friendliest and most reasonable that we’ve ever met. Perhaps the hardships in the early years of settling and living on small islands turn populations into the equivalent of large families. If we were to pick one big difference between the TCI and the rest of the Caribbean islands, it would probably be the relative lack of commercial development here. There are only about eight islands inhabited of the 40 or so in the TCI large enough to support populations. You can still walk a beach here for miles without seeing another person. That’s different.
What are your next plans (cruising, if I’m not mistaken)? Any plans for a book/movie?
We bought an old sailing catamaran about a year and a half ago and sailed it down from Florida. We’re putting a lot of time and effort into fixing and upgrading it now. We want to turn it into a comfortable floating home for a couple of people with a small obnoxious dog to sail around in for a while. We’d like to explore the Bahamas more, and we’re interested in sailing over to the Caribbean coast of Central America. We want to continue to write and dive and explore and take photos and blog about the experience. As for a book or a movie, we’d love a project like that but wouldn’t have a clue where to start.