Grand Cayman - Swimming with the Stingrays

Trip Start Jun 23, 2007
Trip End Jul 11, 2007

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Remember the climax of the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean 3", where Jack Sparrow is heading off to Tortuga, in search of  "The Fountain of Youth"?  Well, that place he's going to is The Cayman Islands.  It was Christopher Columbus who named it Las Tortugas in the year 1503, after the numerous sea turtles there.  It was later changed to Cayman Islands by Sir Francis Drake in 1586 after the Neo-Taino nations term (caiman) for alligator.

The mere mention of Cayman Islands, conjured up the image of dirty money laundering and offshore banking.  Apart from the unpleasant adjectives used to describe this British Overseas Territory,  Cayman Islands is a paradise unknown to many.  It would be a shame for anyone who has been to the Caribbean and not pay a visit to the Cayman Islands.  It's like having steak without mustard!

It was a hazy morning when the shoreline of Grand Cayman came into sight.  Our ship slowly eased into position and dropped it's anchor about half a km from the main terminal.  Due to it's shallow coastline, large cruise ship cannot pull close to the docks.  The port sent feeder boats to shuttle between our ship and the docks every 15mins for the duration of our transit in Grand Cayman.  After slapping on a few layers of sunblock lotion, we're all set to board the feeder boat that will take us to mainland for another fun filled day.

First stop was the Waterfront Centre to sign-up with Captain Marvin's, for the most amazing activity there is on this part of the world, Swimming with Stingrays.  The tour also includes, a drive along the world-famous Seven Mile Beach, a tour to Hell, and a visit to Boatswain's Turtle Farm.

After a brief introduction, our tour guide cum driver Anjou (a Jamaican expat), drove us in his 15seater van through some of Grand Cayman's interesting sites.  The Seven Mile Beach is regarded as the best beach in the world, and any doubt that I had, quickly vanished as I caught glimpse of it while we were on our way to the inner jetty.  The splendid fine white sand and the alluring glistening ocean was enough to persuade anyone to stay there forever.

At the jetty, we made a quick transfer to one of the many 44ft Cabin Cruisers awaiting there.  As we pulled out of the cove, we ogled at some ravishing looking domicile.  The sky had cleared up by then and the sea was calm.  As I stood at the forward pulpit of the cruiser beholding the vast ocean ahead of me, I kept imagining myself as Captain Ahab on a lookout for a great white hump on the horizon.

It took just a 30mins to reach Stingray City, which was a sandbank in the middle of the ocean.  The depth of that patch of area is only about 3-4ft.  The moment we pulled up to the sandbank, we could spot from afar, dark figures just beneath the surface of the water came flocking towards us.  Apprehension started to mount with preoccupied thought of Steve Irwin's faithful encounter with a stingray.  The captain of the cruiser gave us some final instructions and handed out snorkelling gears to everyone.  Armed with a snorkel and a piece of bite-sized squid, Ling and I jumped onto the sandbank and awaited our faith.  One stingray the size of a regular dining table immediately came towards Ling.  Poor Ling was so excited at the same time petrified of their approach.  We braced for the worst to come but to our surprise, those stingrays was so timid and gentle, like pussycats.  They even behave like pussycats, first they came and brush up against your body, then they start sniffing you all over hunting for bits of morsels that we held in our hand.  It was such an astonishing feelings.  They were such gentle giants with no malice in them.  I instantly fell in love with those adorable creatures.  I made a vow not to see them as a dinner item anymore since that day.  There's a special method to feed a stingray as taught to us by our captain.  We gota hold the bite-sized piece of squid upright with our thumb carefully tucked in.  Wait for one of them to hover above your clenched fist, and released when you feel the bit of morsel starts to get sucked out of your grip.  I tried that manoeuvre and discovered that their suction was equalled to that of a voracious vacuum cleaner.  We had a tremendously good time with those stingrays.  Then came the time to bid and kiss them farewell.  Our captain hauled up one big stingray for us to take turn kissing it goodbye.  I planted a big fat kiss on it, and Ling followed by briefly giving it a gentle pecked on it's underside.  We took some stunning pictures there.

Anjou was waiting for us at the jetty by the time we got back in the afternoon.  We quickly changed to some dry clothings and headed off to another impossible place.  They said, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions", well, I chose to differ.  I say, "The road to Hell is in Grand Cayman".  There's really such a place called Hell in Grand Cayman.  All the residents that stayed there will have an address that ends with Hell.  The place that we're going to stop by, was Hell's Post Office.  It's a must for first timer to drop by and send a postcard from Hell, to the person that they have the least inclination for.  A typical postcard from Hell would read something like this, "Greetings from Hell, wish you're here":-)  Naturally, we met Satan face to face in Hell.  Satan turned out to be the Post Master of Hell's post office, horns, tail, fork, beard and all.  Cool guy!

Next, we stop at the Boatswain's Turtle Farm where the endangered Green Sea Turtle were protected in a Sanctuary by the Cayman Islands conservation group.  The old name for Cayman Islands was Las Tortuga, which was derived from the Spanish word for turtle.  It was the green sea turtles that Christopher Columbus was referring to, when he christian this paradise on earth.  Because of over hunting, those numbers have dwindled down to endangered status.  Thank goodness, now those sweet cuddly turtles are being looked after with tender loving care.  We got to hold them in our arms and cuddled them like an endearing pet.  Some grew to enormous size (5-6ft in length).  Looking at them frolicking in the sun really brought joy to us.  After bagging some more souvenirs from the visitors centre, we were taken back to the Waterfront Centre by Anjou.  We tipped Anjou for his hospitality and went on our merry way.


The port held yet many wonderment for us.  We gotten ourselves a couple of prized, T-shirts from HRC.  But the most unusual establishment on the island was a shop called Del Sol.  Del Sol means The Sun in Spanish.  What's exotic about Del Sol was it's product.  Everything in the shop started off as plain dull items until they were exposed to ultra violet rays, especially the sun.  The moment anything in the shop being exposed to the sun, an array of magical colors miraculously appeared.  Yes! everything in the shop changes colors when they're exposed to the sun.  T-shirts, thongs, key chains, sun shades, stuffed toys, even the shopping bags that you carry your purchase in.  Amazing!!!

Margaritaville was another establishment that captured your imaginations like no others.  It was a place for thirsty tourist to quench their thirst with tall flute of...what else...Margaritas!  It's interior decor was a photographer's heaven.  Cayman Island to me was like Fantasy Island and a dreamlike place.  It's a shame that we have to be on our way before the sun set on it's dazzling shores.  Cayman Island will be a place we hold dear to our heart.

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