So many fascinating people call the Caribbean their home. Whether you’re born and raised there or packed a suitcase, bought a ticket and took a leap of faith, island living is a unique proposition and certainly no cakewalk. In the second installment of our “Island Personalities” series, we meet Virgin Gorda’s Chrissann Nickel (aka Toucan Lady BVI).
Chrissann is a San Fran transplant that moved to the islands and hasn’t looked back since. She is also the founder of the popular blog “Women Who Live On Rocks” and BFF’s with 3 toucans! From selfie’s with her feathered friends to chaturanga’s overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Chrissann is living the dream. But “it’s not all sunshine and umbrella drinks” she’ll tell you, so we caught up with the Toucan Lady to get some insider travel tips and insight to the ebb and flow of island livin’:
1. Tell us about yourself, are you originally from the islands?
I am originally from the SF Bay area in California. I used to work in sales for Marriott hotels. In 2006, a co-worker was relocating to St. Thomas, and I was up for an adventure, so I decided to move too (even though I’d never even heard of St. Thomas!). Once I was here, I really took to island life and haven’t had a desire to move away since.
2. What differentiates the British Virgin Islands from other islands?
I moved over to the BVI from the neighboring USVI about 7 years ago. I had met my boyfriend, who operates a resort in the BVI, so I made the decision to move over to be with him, and I’m so glad I did. The British Virgin Islands are such an amazing destination in that there are so many islands and cays within a short distance of one another in relatively calm, protected waters – this territory is all about the boating. Living on Virgin Gorda, I am not stuck on just one island, but can boat around to the various BVIs – stopping at one for a snorkel, another for lunch, and another for happy hour. I love boating and cannot imagine living on another island where that wasn’t an option. Beyond that, the BVIs have a relatively small population, which makes it so much more calm and quaint to live here in comparison to the USVI nearby.
3. You are the coolest person we know because you have toucans as pets! Was the pet store out of puppies and kittens?
Wow, what an honor! Haha, it does seem like quite a random pet choice, doesn’t it? Our three Toco toucans (aka “The Three-Cans”) were here in the territory at a tourist attraction and were not being cared for properly and thus, in need of a new home. We adopted them and have worked to provide them with a better life these past 4 years. They have very specific, demanding care requirements, are extremely intelligent, and need a ton of space – a lot of things I knew little about before we adopted them, as there isn’t much information out there on the subject to be found. Now, a big part of my lifestyle is being a part-time zookeeper!
4. They’re so beautiful that we would probably just have selfie marathon’s with them daily. Do you ever get used to having them?
They are so photogenic and incredibly brilliant birds. I’ll admit, I have about 20,000+ photos of them on my devices! But yes, they are a huge responsibility and the reality of caring for them day in and day out is pretty heavy. I really don’t recommend them as pets for many reasons, and in an effort to better educate people who may be considering bringing one into their lives as a result of my photos/videos, I have a website, Adventures in Toucanland, that gives more of a complete picture of the full scope of toucan ownership – not just colorful IG snaps.
5. You have a year-round tan, 2 popular blogs, practise yoga with the most breathtaking views and hang out with toucans everyday…does it get any better?
I appreciate that, so kind of you to say. Yes, life is good! Some of it’s luck, but a lot of it’s by active design. I see no point in living a life that bores me and have refused to stay stuck in anything that hasn’t fulfilled me. My future plans are always based on upgrading my life with more happy things that inspire and energize my soul. And then I’ll continue to Instagram it! 😉
6. We love the concept of your website “Women who live on rocks”. You’re bringing awareness to the hilarity of island life from the unique perspective of women. What inspired you to create it?
Thank you! The idea for Women Who Live on Rocks had been percolating for many years before I actually brought it to fruition. Island life is ripe with comedic fodder, and I knew I wanted to write about it, it just took me awhile to formulate a plan as to how. Over the years, I have met so many interesting women in the islands, so I decided to format it as more of a collaborative project, so that it could hopefully come closer to covering the full arc of the island woman’s experience – not just my own. Over these past couple of years, I’ve been so grateful to watch the community grow. It’s such a gift to make people laugh and to be able to connect with women (and men too) living on tropical islands all over the world.
7. What are the most common misconceptions about island life?
I think the biggest misconception is that in moving to an island, you’re guaranteed some easy, breezy, “chill mon” lifestyle where there’s no stress and ample amounts of beach time. In reality, most islands are quite expensive to live on, and it takes a lot of hard work and creativity to not only survive, but to thrive. In fact, due to the remote nature and culture of many islands, trying to accomplish things can often be way more frustrating than it is back in “the real world”. Patience and tempering your expectations will get you far.
I love the small town vibe and sense of community. I love running into people I know everywhere I go and not just being an anonymous face in the crowd. The forever-summer thing is pretty awesome too – I don’t function well when I’m cold. Yoga is also a big part of my daily life. I love practicing in this gorgeous setting I live in, listening to the birds tweet and breeze blow without any obnoxious city noise – it’s almost magically zen. I am working on attaining the correct permits with the goal of being able to instruct and share yoga with those living on and visiting our island. Hopefully soon!
9. When you’re living in paradise, what motivates you?
I’m naturally a pretty motivated person, though it can be distracting sometimes to live on an island where everyone around you is on vacation, and it’s never too early for happy hour. When I moved to the BVI, due to visa requirements, I was not allowed to seek traditional employment, so it forced me out of my career path. I was a bit lost at first, but it truly was the gift of time I needed to reflect and figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. Now that I’m shaping my self-made career around my passions – writing, yoga, and animal training – it’s easy to stay motivated. So many happy goals, so little time – and with an incredible view to boot!
Absolutely! I may be living on a tropical island, but it’s still life, full of responsibilities and schedules – you know, the kind of stuff you want a vacation from. Living on an island can certainly be limiting in many ways due to its small size and remote location, so when I go on vacation, I want to do things that aren’t available to me year round. Things like concerts, theaters, interesting cities, diverse cuisine, and nightlife are always appealing. Unless I’m island hopping for a weekend getaway around me (which is also fun), lying on a beach is not a priority anymore on vacation.
11. Do you have any advice for people looking to make the move? What should they consider before buying that ticket?
Set yourself up for success ahead of time – leap, but leap with a bit of a plan so you don’t crash and burn. Get a job on the island of your choosing that will assist with your relocation, and/or save up some money to assist you in the transition. Island life is expensive and not for everyone. It’s not all sunshine and umbrella drinks – many people who move down don’t make it a year. Once you move down, keep an open mind and just try to appreciate things as they are, rather than trying to fit it into a picture of how you used to live.
12. We visited the BVI’s almost exactly a year ago but didn’t have as much time as we would have liked. From the local perspective, name 5 things that we shouldn’t miss next time?
- A full day of boating around the territory without a definitive plan, stopping to snorkel at wherever spot of blue catches your eye and hopping off the boat at whatever beach bar intrigues you.
- A stay at Saba Rock resort, taking a sunrise SUP(stand up paddle board) tour of the North Sound one morning.
- Playtime at Cooper Island, enjoying drinks with friends around their in-the-sea cocktail tables
- A spa day at Little Dix Bay resort – having champagne delivered to you at their serene infinity pool between treatments.
- A helicopter tour over Anegada, taking in the reef and looking for old shipwrecks from above.