Our Life in the Caribbean

My husband and I lived on a tiny Caribbean island for 20 months, AND DON’T START GETTING ANY NOTIONS about it being “like a two year vacation!” or sipping drinks on the beach every day. I mean, I certainly sipped drinks on the beach, but they were virgin (boooorrrring) and very few and far between, since the entire purpose of our life there was for my husband to attend medical school and neither medical school nor pina coladas are free. We’re poor, is what I’m saying.

My typical response to the “two year vacation” comment is to put on an expression of overly cheery optimism and say, “It was certainly an adventure!”, which it was. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and for the experience, and I really do look back fondly on it for the most part. But the long story is this [pictures and links at the end]:

  • The island, St. Eustatius (or “Statia”) was very small. Like 8 square miles (or 11, or 6, depending on who you ask), population of 3,500 small. And while this made for low crime rates – we felt perfectly safe walking at any hour of day or night, and I even once bummed a ride off a local I didn’t know – we sort of started going crazy. Island fever is a thing, people. We were fortunate enough to be able to fly home on most of Jon’s breaks from school, but those 4+ month stretches were taxing. I had to sign a document when we arrived that said I wouldn’t work, so I went from a full-time job that I absolutely loved to being completely stagnant. Which was fun for like a month. Aside from occasional school events there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment (Statia is not a touristy island), and with Jon off being a serious medical student I was really, really lonely. Fortunately for me, after nine months of isolation Jon’s brother came to attend the same school and he brought his wife and my two year old niece with him (Darcy, Lianna, and Pearl, respectively). I measure my time on Statia pre and post their arrival.
  • It was HOT – a sticky, miserable heat made completely inescapable by the fact that we had no AC and no vehicle. Some nights we would sit watching TV, making as few movements as possible, wearing little to nothing, with a fan blowing directly on us, drinking cold water, and we were still sweating.
  • We lived at the base of a dormant volcano. We’d flounce into town on the steady downward slope, but the grocery-laden walk back home was torturous agony. My legs looked amazing though.
  • Most everyone on the island, us included, had a cistern for collecting rainwater off their roofs. We used that for bathing, laundry, and boiled it for washing dishes. Everything else – drinking, cooking, teeth-brushing, we used bottled water.
  • Our laundry machine was not like the American type. It sat out on the porch and involved lots of babysitting – filling with a hose and draining between cycles and transferring the clothes to a separate bin for the spin cycle. We had a laundry line, and it’s impossible for your clothes to get dry on a laundry line when it’s hurricane season. Laundry is my favorite chore now as a result. I absolutely love it. You put your clothes in, and the machine cleans them, then you put them in the dryer, and it smells good, and you never have to shake spiders out of them.
  • The noise, OH, THE NOISE!!!! Chickens and goats and cows and donkeys roamed all over the place. There were these creatures that made a chorus of squeaky swingset sounds all night long (we called them "swingset birds" until we learned that they were tree frogs...then we still called them swingset birds.) A shload of bats lived in our ceiling and we'd hear them squeaking and scrabbling about from one end of the room to another. And there were multiple occasions where Jon stumbled outside in his underwear in the middle of the night to throw rocks at roosters perched in the tree right outside our window.
  • We had to completely change our diet. We were skeptical about the refrigeration, so we basically cut everything out of our diet that could have sickened us if not properly refrigerated. Produce was unvaried and unreliable. There was a glorious little fruit and vegetable project called Hazel’s with the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten, but it was a few miles away so we were lucky to get there once a week.
  • We opted against installing the internet at our house. This ended up, surprisingly, being one of my biggest blessings while I was there. I’d walk to the school every day for internet time and I know myself well enough to say that without that incentive, I barely would have left the house (pre Darcy-Lianna-Pearl). I became friends with a bunch of Jon’s classmates as a result of my daily trips to campus.
  • There was only one small beach for swimming, but it was a lovely, happy little beach. Sometimes a storm would come along and strip all the sand off, but I was so grateful for that one little beach that it didn’t even matter. The neighboring island, Saba, has ZERO BEACHES. There was another, larger beach on the far side of the island called Zeelandia, but we barely made it out there for lack of transportation. It wasn’t a swimming beach, anyway. Currents were too dangerous.

That’s the summary. Here’s a list of links from our time in the island that you might be interested in, to get a better idea of daily life on a tiny, sleepy Caribbean island:

That time we got charged by a black bull in the dead of night.
Yes, there were bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.
A tour of our house
Our beach, before and after a hurricane
One of the best days of my life – watching baby sea turtles hatch.
Swimming with a sea turtle; AND I FOUND A BLUE BEAD!
Snorkeling pictures
Snorkeling videos
That time I volunteered with local kids; more importantly, a glimpse into the island's history.

Our little swimming/snorkeling beach

Old hurricane shelter

View of lower town and Saba (the original Skull Island!)

Dive shop

The slope into town


View from the top of the volcano

Inside the volcano's crater

The dangerous, non-swimming beach

Local fisherman, Saba in the background

o hai

Dutch Reform church tower

Baby sea turtle on my foot

Pearl watching the hatchlings

Swimming with a sea turtle, one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life.

Swimming with two sea turtles, as they swam with each other.


Laundry situation; our cistern in the background (with plants growing out of it)

Our little house