I’ve always wanted to go to the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. For one thing, my dad and brother Tom had both been, and raved about it. For another, there’s a distant (very!) family connection to the place, so as soon as we could afford it, T and I made the journey.
Since we live in a smaller city, there were no direct flights, but our transit was straightforward. Travel is always stressful, particularly with connecting flights, so even though things went smoothly, we were tired when we arrived. As we got close, I watched as the lush, green island of Cuba passed beneath us, and had those Cold War-related thoughts that only someone of my or the previous generation has stored away.
Georgetown was hot and sunny that afternoon. We picked up our rental car, drove a few stress-filled, map-flipping, driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road miles to our hotel in moderate to light traffic, and I unloaded our bags. T does nearly all the planning work for our trips, and I feel a little guilty about that, though she’s really good at it, and her online research game is strong. She found us a great hotel in a terrific location, and we dropped off our stuff and looked around. We were close to a number of other resorts, Seven-Mile beach, and, as it turned out, a warehouse grocery store. Our room was more like a small apartment, including a decent kitchenette, so we stocked up on some groceries to cut down on expenses. The hotel had a nice restaurant, as well as providing free breakfast, so we would be well-equipped to start our explorations tomorrow.
Driving proved a bit of an adventure. For one thing, I had to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road than usual, AND – just in case I wasn’t confused yet – have the steering wheel on the opposite side as well. Also, their roundabouts are BIG – much bigger than those in the US, and therefore a bit intimidating. However, I remembered a trick taught to me by my pal Lucy Huntzinger when we traveled together in the UK: if you miss your turn-off in a roundabout, don’t panic – just go around again. It worked out.
The Cayman Islands are an expensive place to visit. Besides the exchange rate usually being unfavorable for visitors from the US (the currency is based on the British Pound) prices are just plain higher there, as most everything has to be brought in by boat or plane. Restaurant prices were fairly similar to what we were used to; this is perhaps because we looked for restaurants featuring local cuisine as much as possible: we can get burgers and pizza at home, so I felt it behooved me to try things I might not have much access to normally.
There were chickens everywhere.
Not in major downtown areas, but anywhere with a vacant lot next door or gardens nearby, we encountered live, free-range chickens free-ranging. No idea if they were wild or someone’s pets/livestock, but they had a healthy concern about letting people get too close, so we didn’t try.
Our first day there we decided to visit the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. It was nearly all the way across the island from where we were staying, but the island isn’t huge, so it was less than an hour’s drive. The gardens were amazing; we were there in March and sadly, that was too early to see all the orchids in bloom, but we were able to see many of the orchid plants themselves, which was still pretty cool. We saw the Cayman species of parrot – green with a pale red face – and a few more familiar species, like Catbirds and Mockingbirds. We spotted lots of tiny lizards zipping around, and we got a good look at one of the endangered Blue Iguanas. The Botanic Park hosts a Blue Iguana sanctuary and breeding facility, but there are still a few wild ones that live outside of the fenced-off sanctuary.
One of the uber-touristy things we did was to visit Stingray City. This is a spot out in the water near where fishermen used to clean their catches. Stingrays would congregate to feast on the offal, and in later years it became a tourist attraction, where people can touch the stingrays and feed them squid. While these are wild animals, they are also fairly acclimated to humans, though we were warned repeatedly to be careful where we stepped. The rays kept moving so there wasn’t a lot of danger for us from that. Still, the surf was active, and we were standing in nearly chest-high water; being lifted up with each wave made me extra paranoid about accidentally stepping on a ray.
I find touristy things like this – ones that combine animas and people in ways that are too cozy – to be problematic. As soon as we left, the rays scattered, but I still worried that they would grow too dependent on these handouts for their survival. While I had fun, I was uneasy about the nature of this attraction and how it impacts wild populations.
We also visited the Cayman Turtle Farm: a turtle park and breeding facility. They are responsible for breeding Green and the highly endangered Kemp’s Ridleys sea turtles. They work to return thousands of sea turtles to the wild to keep global populations stable. They had a number of interesting wildlife attractions at this facility, including a hybrid crocodile (unreleasable due to its hybrid nature) and a wild bird sanctuary.
One thing I wanted to do while there was visit and take a few photos in Bodden Town. Rumor has it that Bodden Town was founded by a distant ancestor of mine who had been press ganged or Shanghaied by (presumably) the British Navy. He apparently jumped ship at Grand Cayman, and settled down to stay, founding a town in the process. We couldn’t find any corroboration during our short stay, but in preparing for the trip I discovered the Vernon L. Jackson public library, and I decided I wanted to donate copies of books in which I had stories published. Obviously I’m not local, but I thought the name connection might be fun. When we arrived at the modest library, the librarian seemed put-out that I wanted something from her. When I announced that I wanted to donate a few books because of the name connection, she took them without comment, set them on her desk, and returned to reading her book. I left, feeling like a big, dumb tourist.
Wrapping up our trip, on our last full day on the island we went snorkeling. We discovered the allure of snorkeling on a Caribbean cruise, and have enjoyed doing so on all our other trips to the Caribbean. We saw stingrays, a number of very colorful fish, and plenty of interesting seaweed and coral. We bought a waterproof digital camera for our first snorkeling adventure, and it’s proved a reliable, all-purpose camera ever since. I am neither a strong nor fast swimmer, and am always left behind as the snorkeling tour groups I’ve been with move on to other sights. It’s the one thing about snorkeling I don’t enjoy.
We both loved our time on Grand Cayman, and realized that we want to go back someday. Maybe when travel restrictions finally lift we can do so, but for now, we have our photos and our memories to remind us of warm, Caribbean days and nights surrounded by crystal clear blue ocean.