Grand Cayman Island

All I can think about when docking at Grand Cayman Island is the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.  I dunno…. It’s probably because it’s one of my three sons’ hands down favorite movies or maybe it’s because the scenery just lends itself to imagining Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa on ships in the ocean.  Or maybe it’s just because I like to let my mind wander ……  whatever the reason, Grand Cayman Island is beautiful and filled with adventure as well as beauty. When. Sir Francis Drake first landed on the island in 1586, he noted that there was no human life, no wildlife other than turtles, crocodiles and alligators!

We had to take a tender to the island and always wary of missing our guide times, we left early so that we wouldn’t be late. The tender was able to carry 90 passengers at a time so it was pretty easy to get on and it only took 10 minute to get to shore. The port is clean, full of trinket shops, has clean bathrooms (yay!), and tons of taxi services / entrepreneurs  trying to get you to take their tour. We had set up a private tour but we actually found the people trying to hustle a tour to be very kind and even helpful when we weren’t sure where we were supposed to meet our guide. Caymanians are FRIENDLY.

Initially we were struck with how clean the island of Grand Cayman is as well as the brightly colored homes. Victor tells us that the residents paint their homes every year to keep them beautiful!

Stunning turquoise water, gorgeous white sand beaches, a bottle, or three, of rum from the Tortuga Rum Company, blow holes, the Pedro St. James and my favorite, The Turtle Centre– all stops on our tour of Grand Cayman.

And then there’s Hell. Hell, Grand Cayman. Yes, there really is a Hell – whose name is derived from the limestone formation that is blacked by an algae. Personally, it reminded me of the Pinnacles in Trona, CA but that looks like hell too so maybe it’s symbiotic. We got our passports stamped from Hell, sent postcards home from Hell, and help a lovely couple take their pictures of the devil and angel from Hell…… appropriately putting the husband as the devil and the wife as the angel because we ALL know that’s the truth or at least that’s the truth as I write it…..

The Cayman Turtle Centre opened in 1968 as a commercial venture to domesticate Green Sea turtles.  By 1980, the Centre was establishing a breeding program for the endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles which was met with success in 1984 when the first hatching of the species.  Over the years leading up to 2012, the Centre became the largest tourist attraction on the island, not just for its turtles, but for its aviary that includes Cayman parrots, Bananaquits and Honeycreepers, as well as marine life and the nature trails that promote Cayman traditions and culture.

The efforts by the Centre to support the native wildlife and rebuild the wild populations has garnered media attention and worldwide support.  We were surprised when our tour guide Victor told us we would be not only visiting the Turtle Centre but swimming with turtle — our tour info didn’t say that and we were completely unprepared. Shocker! Victor assured us we could buy swimsuits at the visitor centre, which we did.

We were able to swim and snorkel with the turtles and fish in the lagoon at the Centre. It was exhilarating and a first for me! While I normally worry about the ethical part of swimming with various sea animals, in this case it was with baby turtles so no adverse ‘training’ takes place. We have heard the horror stories of animals being tasered, drugged, or other mistreatment in order for humans to interact. At the Turtle Centre, this is never done. While we were unable to take pictures during our time snorkeling and swimming with turtles, I can tell you it was a highlight of our entire cruise and I would love to do it again!

Nothing like a picture on a bad hair day!

And thar she blows!!!  No, it’s not a whale.  In this case, it’s the thin stretch of beach on the East end of the island known as the Blow Holes.  The marine geysers are formed when sea caves that grow into vertical shafts close to land and are exposed to the surface.  The hydraulic compression from the sea water is released through the top of cave, known as the blowhole. It was a quick stop but just like watching geyser go off, I enjoy the blow hole activity.

We stopped for a lovely lobster lunch at South Coast Bar and Grill. The lobster was the traditional Cayman style recipe with onions, tomato sauce, black beans and rice. It was exceptional… and this is from a girl who love her lobster grilled and soaked in butter. We also tried the conch soup, which was similar to a minestrone, but not my favorite and the conch fritters which was strictly a curiosity ‘let’s try this’ order.

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Victor ordered fried Spat. A small fish which you eat like a potato chip

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Conch fritters

Our tour included Pedro St. James “Castle” which is the oldest existing building in the Cayman Islands.  We enjoyed their 25 minute film / interactive experience and our host Trisha who is a Caymanian Mississippian hoot. Trisha was full of energy and information and honors both her American and Cayman heritage. Trisha also taught us that there is an allspice tree! I had always thought that the spice from the store called Allspice was a blend of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon — surprise! There is such as thing as the Allspice tree and the leaves smell fabulous!

Pedro St. James is a reconstruction of a 1780 plantation home originally owned by William Eden.  The building underwent major restoration in 1996 after years of neglect had rendered it nothing more than a shell.  The original building served as a meeting place for the first elected parliament in 1831 and four years later, in 1835, the Slavery Abolition Act was read from the archway of the building.

And now back to the rum… because it’s always ultimately about the rum… and where has all the rum gone, right?  At the Tortuga Rum Company, you can find over 10 types of flavored rum – though truly, what’s wrong with just sticking to the straight rum? Okay, well I will confess that I tried Mango rum, dark rum, and spice rum and I bought a bottle of each…. so I guess ‘regular’ rum truly isn’t enough. I cannot wait to make a mojito with that dark rum! Hint: if you are cringing thinking only light rum is for Mojitos….. venture out! A dark rum tastes fantastic!

We also were able to taste chocolate and traditional rum cakes – and I purchased both! There are additional flavors including walnut, banana, key lime – just to name a few.  And, there are two locations, so you can actually have your rum cake and drink your rum twice before returning to the cruise ship!  Now that’s satisfying my inner pirate!

We spent an unforgettable day touring the Island of Grand Cayman in the company of our knowledgeable tour guide Victor from Cayman Tours. He started out very reserved and formal but it didn’t take long before he warmed up to us California girls and started talking about his grandchildren, children, and is interesting work history as a seaman on cargo ships, a policeman, and a bar owner! It is the personalization of hiring a private guide that time and time brings us to pay additional fees for the knowledge, experience, and professionalism of private guides. Victor was another great guide who provided a wonderful day long experience.

Tips for visiting hot and humid Cayman — water, swimsuit, hat, sunscreen, a tour guide, take the risk and swim with turtles!

And remember to be silly, enjoy life, and have a lot of fun!

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