Watch Out For The Stingers

Trip Start Oct 07, 2013
Trip End Jul 01, 2015

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Where I stayed
Lime Tree Bay Apts

Flag of Cayman Islands  , Grand Cayman,
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To get a reasonably efficient flight to Easter Island meant that we needed to get to Miami at some point but since Cuba and the U.S. are still peeing in each others cornflakes you can't fly directly between the two, so we picked the Grand Caymans for an intermediate stop. Why Grand Caymans?? First, it was a very short flight from Havana which is always a good thing. Second, it offered up another of our bucket list items  which would see us swimming with man-eating Stingrays (except for the man-eating part).
Third, Kirsty & James lived there- we met Kirsty & James at a bar in Palau after some spectacular scuba diving and, although they were suitably warned, they invited us to drop in if we were ever in the neighbourhood (at some point we are always going to be in the neighbourhood!!). Kirsty is something of a significant player in the drug trade on the island, and as far as we could gather, James was deep under cover as a local interests reporter for the island newspaper- I suspect that, in between dives, he was digging up dirt on the off-shore banking industry that the Caymans is so famous for. Their hospitality was wonderful.

The Cayman Islands are the fifth-largest banking centre in the world, with $1.5 trillion in banking liabilities. The Cayman Islands were ranked as the world's second most significant tax haven in 2011 falling behind only Switzerland. Financial services generated CI$1.2 billion of GDP in 2007 (55% of the total economy), 36% of all employment and 40% of all government revenue.  The Cayman Islands narrowly avoided being placed on the OECD black list in 2000 by committing to regulatory reform to improve transparency and begin information exchange with OECD member countries about their citizens.  DH was a little disappointed that this secretive industry wasn't a little more obvious (perhaps overlooking the general definition of 'secretive') and was hoping to wander through some offices and take photos? She might have been looking for shady dudes in trench coats and dark glasses offering up business cards for Joe's Bank ("we hide your money in a hole in our back yard- the taxman will never find it there"). Not sure what it says but most, if not all, of Canada's major banks were well represented on the island- given all of their unwarranted service fees, Joe's Bank might not be such a bad alternative??
Unlike many other Caribbean islands, the citizens of the Cayman Islands enjoy a relatively high standard of living (the highest in the Caribbean). This shows up in much higher prices for just about everything- given our food-deprived time in Cuba, we purposely ignored this as we ordered the Lumberjack Special for our first breakfast (anticipated Marlene S's question- there are no lumberjacks in the Caymans but sales might dip if they called it the 'Greedy Pig Special').
Like many other Caribbean islands, Grand Cayman is all about spectacular beaches and water-related activities. Since we haven't been diving in quite a while and we have a very special dive coming up in Florida, DH (where the 'D' stands for Diver Down) wanted to get some practice in and you're almost spoiled for choice in the Grand Cayman. We warmed up with a wreck/reef dive on the Doc Poulsen, floated through some coral beds, and then came another of those underwater Wows. Diving at Stingray City is by no means technical, difficult, or deep so many experienced divers don't see it the way we did but we were blown away. Once you got used to the idea that these Stingrays neither threatened nor feared us, it was like being surrounded by a pack of swimming puppies (for those who remember Steve Irwin getting killed by a Stingray, these were Southern Stingrays not Giant Stingrays, and apparently Steve Irwin had done something which caused a self defense reaction from the Ray). It didn't hurt that we were feeding them some squid (being careful to not get our fingers hoovered into their clamp-like mouths), but they seemed to genuinely enjoy rubbing up against us, going as far as to sit on our heads to get the bubbles from exhales
We did go to the sandbar that most tourists go to (particularly cruise ship escapees), and although there weren't too many people there (which is apparently unusual), it was a bit ho-hum after our dive. While we stood in chest deep water, the Stingrays were swarming all around us to the point of crawling right up our chests. Apparently some years ago fisherman would gut their daily catch on their boats in the bay (because of overly ferocious mosquitoes on land), tossing the guts into the water- the Stingrays saw this as a fine dining opportunity and since then have seen humans, above and below the waterline, in a very positive light. 

We also went critter hunting for the extraordinarily rare Blue Iguana. Found only on Grand Cayman and with only 12 of them left in the wild in 2003, this reptilian dude was dangerously close to extinction. Dedicated conservation efforts have helped the population bounce back to an estimated 700 in the wild, but their long term survival is by no means guaranteed. With a nose-to-tail length of 5ft, it's the largest critter on the island and seems to be something of a showman- we were worried that we might not even catch a glimpse but a number of them simply wandered in front of us and posed for photos. 

Using Kirsty's car we explored most of the island including a stop at Rum Point and we made a quick visit to Hell which was a cheesy neighbourhood north of Georgetown that surrounded a small outcropping of volcanic rocks that someone imagined to be a preview of Hell- it kind of was my view of Hell, but more because we were surrounded but packs of cruise ship types who were sumo wrestling each other for the last XXXL sized "I Went To Hell And Back" T-shirt.

We also walked most of the 5.5 miles of Seven Mile Beach- shorter than advertised but wonderful white sand and gorgeous water. We even managed our first ever dive in a submarine and we did it at night in the hope of spotting a sea monster of some description (or a couple of bankers wearing cement shoes?). We didn't even have a periscope but it was good fun nonetheless.  
We expected our time in the Caymans to be spent lounging on the beach but it turned out to be a series of little adventures and once we got used to the pricing, we had a great time. 

ps- DH has suggested that some might wrongly interpret my earlier description of Kirsty- she's a pharmacist.

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Amanda on

Looks a lot nicer than Cuba

Jim Mackrell on

Vic, I'm guessing your writing style has changed from day one.. EXCELLENT entry... And the photos are just amazing.. CBC or SOMEONE should know of your exploits... Your reference to Steve Irwin was touching, and timely given the interview with his cameraman I watched this week, and your Drug Queenpin.... Well done. Hug DH for me. Very well done.. I had lunch with the owner of the Wexford a couple of weeks ago. I told him you'd traveled the world and came home to have breakfast in his restaurant.... Cheers to you both.....xx

Rebecca on

Hey guys... I can actually relate to this trip because we were only there 2 weeks ago. Yep, been to hell and back and have the pics to prove it!! pete took the same pic of the face inside the devil body. Why is it the guys who want to do that?? Anyways, I love the stingray pics, we didn't do that cuz Im a chicken, but it looks cool. Have a great time and I look forward to reading more about your adventures!! Becky and Pete

Elaine & Doug on

Great commentary and fabulous underwater photography! You outdid yourselves with this effort.

Carol C on

WOW not sure I could ever be in the water with that many stingrays! But what beautiful photos!

lorena on

well you can cross Hell out of your bucket list. you were there and back!! superb pics, experiences.. tku tku big hug.

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