Day 8: Grand Cayman Islands
Today is Katie’s first full day off work – an exciting prospect in itself – so we are going to hit the island’s attractions big time today. Boarding the local bus we head out from Seven Mile towards the turtle farm.
Turtles are a local source of food on Cayman. However, in order to not deplete the species to extinction, Cayman Turtle Farm was founded to farm the green turtle for commercial purposes, whilst breeding the species and releasing it back into the wild to keep numbers up. The Turtle Farm also has an intensive research and conservation program, so whilst you might not agree with the fact they are raising turtles to be turned into stew at local venues around the island, you gotta applaud the fact that there is a program in place to at least provide for the continuation of a local tradition.
Wandering through the farm, there are tanks of different sized and different species of turtle. When they come up for air, they make a funny noise like ‘puh’. Sounds like my Dad when he’s fallen asleep on the couch.
I don’t like turtles. They look so prehistoric and just….I don’t know….I just don’t like them. But Lola had seen the photo of Katie and Yoshi holding a small turtle and told me that she wanted me to do that too while I was here, so I pull up my big girl pants and we head to the handling tanks. The guide shows us how to pick up and handle the turtles, how to stroke them under the chin if they start to stress (who’s going to stroke me under the chin?), and how to place them back in the water gently once you are finished. He’s already got one turtle out of the water so he just passes it to me. I take a big breath, not knowing what it’s going to feel like, and trying to prepare myself for it to start flapping about. The underneath of the turtle feels firmer and more rubbery than I thought it would, but of course the shell just feels like a hard shell and the turtle doesn’t flap at all. The turtle and I are both just standing there, frozen in time. After a few minutes I pop him back into the water. It wasn’t so bad after all.
There’s a bird aviary also, containing a number of beautiful birds. We paid extra money to feed them and were given three little containers of seed, pellets and nectar.
You can also try your hand at snorkelling at the small lagoon at the farm, so Katie has decided that this is a good place to launch me into this new thing that I desperately wanted to try. It’s really hard for me to get used to the mask on my face, particularly around my nose. It feels claustrophobic and I really don’t like it at all. But I so want to do this and I know I will be disappointed if I don’t give it a try, so I finally get up the courage to head for the lagoon, snorkel in place.
We swim around for a little bit, taking some photos with my underwater disposable camera, just fish and things – it’s really hard to see into the view finder. Suddenly the bottom of the lagoon drops away and this is the bit where I know I’ve reached my limit. Just don’t like the thought of being under deep water, where I can’t see the bottom and I don’t know what’s out there. So I just decide the hang around this shallow bit for a while, looking around at my surroundings. I pop my head up above the water and am enjoying the sunshine, until I notice that the rocks on both sides of the lagoon are laden with iguanas. Then I remember that Katie said they can swim. Oh my God, shit, I’ve gotta get out of here. What am I doing snorkelling for the first time in a lagoon surrounded by iguanas?
None of them make the leap into the water though, so I’m fine for now.
From the Turtle Farm, we walk through the streets of West Bay, past colourful little homes with their inhabitants hanging out on their porches chatting to neighbours, to our next destination – Hell. Hell is a patch of black limestone rock formations. The location is surrounded by funny little signposts, designating the devil’s parking spot and orders to protect the formations signed by the devil.
The locals sitting around the gas station are keen to banter with us, like “Hope you enjoy your visit to Hell”, “I’ve been living in Hell my whole life” and “It’s a Hell of a place”. Hell has it’s own gift shop where you can buy postcards and mail them, complete with postmark from Hell. Hell even has it’s own Facebook page.
Leaving Hell by bus, we travel back through the streets and head for Cemetary Beach for a little bit more snorkelling and swimming. Cemetary Beach is known as one of the best spots for snorkelling on Cayman. This is my first time snorkelling in the ocean. The water is so clear and I can’t believe that you can see colourful tropical fishes in such shallow water.
Walking back along the beach towards home, we stop off for a cocktail and to try some Conch fritters at the Surfside bar. This little bar even features floating tables out in the ocean. Conches are large seawater snails – ew – so I reckon the best way to first taste this local delicacy is to try it deep fried with a cocktail to wash it down with just in case! But aside from being a little rubbery, it tastes fine. We meet a lovely woman at the bar, with whom we strike up a conversation for a while and she ends up buying us a round of drinks. This was a timely encounter as we had just spent our walk up the beach talking about how hard it is to strike up conversations with genuinely nice people in the world today. Our faith was now restored.
For dinner, the plan is to continue the bold adventure and dine on turtle meat. Katie books us in to Champion House and we order a platter of conch four ways – deep fried, chowder, meatballs and sweet and sour salad. However when the turtle arrives, I just can’t get the image of this mornings tanks of turtles out of my head. This is compounded by the fact that the stew contains not just turtle meat, but all sorts of other parts of the turtle. And with Katie sucking the life out of her turtle skin and fat with gusto, it’s all too much and I really just can’t do it. I really feel very, very sick.
The jerk chicken, goat curry and beans and rice that we ordered were really nice though, and the gentleman who served us was a very hospitable and knowledgeable man, which made the dining experience really lovely though. But there’s no more time to chit chat, because we still have one last thing to do before the day is out.
Bioluminescence Kayak Tour
While researching the Caymans, one of the things that looked really interesting was the Bioluminescence Night Tour run by Cayman Kayaks. I added it to my mental list, but Katie made it a reality by booking us on this trip tonight. Yoshi drives us all the way to Rum Point, which is on the other side of this small island, but seems to take a lifetime to get to. It’s 9pm when we set off in our double sit-on top kayaks, heading towards the lights on the horizon, stars twinkling in the night sky above.
Bioluminescence is light created by plants and creatures. Although it occurs throughout the world, the concentration of it in ‘Bio Bay’ is in amazingly high concentration. We stop the kayaks to shake our hands around in the water, slice our paddles through the waves and thump them on the waterbed below, watching the lights scatter up and down the paddles, and sparkle light stars on our arms and legs. It’s amazing.
Kayaking back to the shore, the sky lights up intermittently with flashes of lightning. For a time we are heading into the darkness of the waters, and if I let myself, I could probably be very scared right now, but I let the rhythm of paddling keep my mind occupied and relax to enjoy this unique adventure.
Pulling the kayaks back up the shore, my mind wanders to what an awesome day I’ve had today, facing fears and undertaking many firsts along the way. Today I’ve been to Hell and back and I survived!
DAILY IGUANA COUNT: 31