Day 6: Grand Cayman Islands
Before my trip, a lot of people asked me about the Cayman Islands. Obviously everyone knows them as a tax haven, but no-one seems to know much beyond that – travel agents included! So I thought I’d give you a little bit of background and hopefully answer some of the questions you all asked.
The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory. The islands are self-governed but are under the direct protection of the United Kingdom; and the Queen of England is depicted on Cayman Islands currency and postal stamps. The people speak English, although there are many other languages spoken by its inhabitants. Christopher Columbus first sighted Cayman Brac and Little Cayman on 10 May 1503 during his fourth trip to the New World. Columbus was en route to Hispaniola when his ship was thrust westward toward “two very small and low islands, full of tortoises, as was all the sea all about, insomuch that they looked like little rocks, for which reason these islands were called Las Tortugas.”
But it was actually Sir Francis Drake that founded the islands at Cayman, naming them for their alligator inhabitants. I’m now wondering if there’s a link here between Drake’s Golden Hind ship that I saw back in London and all the pirates that savaged the Caribbean back in the day….
There are three islands – Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – with Grand Cayman being the largest and most developed.
Grand Cayman Island is about 32km long with an average width of 6km. The capital of Grand Cayman is George Town. Cayman describes itself as a global village consisting of over 100 different nationalities in its 50,000 strong population. However most Caymanians have their origin in Britain, Scotland and Africa.
Water sports is what Cayman has built its substantial tourism industry and reputation on. You are never more than 3km from the water anywhere on any of the three Cayman Islands. Seven Mile Beach, where I’m staying, has the largest number of accommodations with easy access to the beach.
Katie and Yoshi are off to work this morning, but I feel at a bit of a loss without my luggage and the first plane into Cayman doesn’t arrive until 11.30am. I walk down to take a look at the beach, and it is quite stunning. The water is so clear and turquoise. I can see little schools of fishes swimming nearby. The water is warm and so inviting, it’s kind of cruel that I don’t have any bathers with me, cause I know this is where I would be spending my time right now.
Katie leaves work early and we head off to see some sights. We start walking down the road towards Camana Bay. I had totally forgotten about the island’s iguanas until right about now – I think the stunning beach had lulled me into a false sense of security. I tense up and freak out at the iguana now sitting alongside the side of the road. We keep walking and there’s another one. Katie tells me that they like to hide under cars and up around the rims where its cool – ah, there’s another one – so people have to be really careful – and another one – or they could accidentally run over them – argh, and another one! And they hide in the bushes – all I can hear are rustling bushes now – and in the trees – are you freaking kidding me! I don’t think Katie realised it was going to be this bad. We are only walking for about 10 – 15 minutes and I have counted 10 iguanas. “That’s actually not very many, it must be a slow day – plus we haven’t even seen any big ones yet” Katie tells me.
I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get over this “illogical phobia”, but I’m gonna have to try because it’ll start to get really annoying to Katie and Yoshi, and will reduce my nerves to shreds!
Upon reaching Camana Bay, and after a nice settling glass of wine, I spot an iguana that looks almost friendly. He’s one of the island mascots – Poof. Now the name Poof is not a reference to his sexual persuasion, but is actually a reference to the endangered status of this species. He is part of the Blue Dragon Trail, which is a series of 15 dragons around the island.
Camana Bay is set up for tourists, that much is obvious. There are a lot of overpriced shops, and it’s very quiet around. Obviously the cruise ships that I saw in port this morning have left. It’s quite a nice little area other than that, and I really enjoyed the wine bar. It was set up with bottle machines all along the wall, so you buy a card pre-loaded with cash and then go to whichever wine you would like and select whether you want a taste, a half glass or a full glass.
After looking around Camana Bay, we head back out to the main road and flag down one of the island buses. The bus rides cost KYD$2 and there are no designated stops. Basically if one is coming along the road, the driver will beep to let you know he is coming and you can flag him down if you want to jump on board. Then you can stop where you like. Driving along the road into Georgetown, Jamaican music playing on the radio, is actually quite a relaxing way to get around.
In town, we visit the National Museum. The building itself has been a number of things, prison, courthouse, dancehall and post office, but it now preserves the history of the Cayman Islands. The museum is well set up with a number of interpretive displays that tell you everything you need to know about the islands and its inhabitants.
The one that particularly took my fancy was the one below, where the lifelike mannequin, complete with moving parts, tells you his stories about a terrible storm and the ins and outs of his catboat.
The streets of Georgetown are quiet. Its a different story when the cruise ships are in, but once they leave for the day, everything shuts up. There are a lot of high end shops here for the tourists to plunder when they come in – Cartier, Victoria’s Secret, to name a few and lots of tourist shops selling gaudy t-shirts, mugs and jewellery.
Aside from a few locals, the only living things roaming the streets are the chickens. There are lots of chickens around. I have no problem with chickens. There are almost as many of them around as iguanas.
Returning to the hotel, I’m extremely excited to see my luggage has arrived. I can’t tell you much I’m looking forward to fresh clothes and just knowing where all my stuff is.
We head next door to Legendz bar for a few glasses of wine before deciding on The Hard Rock Café as our destination for dinner – I know my love for this place is corny, but it was so justified when I arrived to find that this HRC houses Eddie Vedder’s famous brown jacket. This is the jacket he wore for the MTV Unplugged session, where I saw and heard of Pearl Jam for the first time ever, the program which kicked off my whole love of Pearl Jam. I would never in a million years have expected to find that in the Caymans.
There was also a guitar signed by Eddie, Slash’s famous black hat and Gibson Les Paul, a jacket signed by the members of Nirvana and one of Kurt’s guitars and one of Chris Cornell’s (Soundgarden) guitars – makes me wonder what’ll be left of grunge music history once I actually get to Seattle! I was grinning from ear to ear like a child and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed my burger and fries at the Hard Rock more than I have this night. This could not have been a more perfect end to the day.
DAILY IGUANA COUNT: 10