Several years ago my very good friends Nick, Avril and their son Daniel Ward relocated from the beautiful little town of Langebaan on South Africa's west coast to their new home on the island. Having friends live on the other end of the world makes it difficult to stay in contact but through the years we managed to keep in touch and occasionally made a visit or two. I was lucky enough to make a visit to the islands in 2003 while I was still trying to convince Inge-Marie to date me so this trip was a perfect opportunity to take her to meet the Wards.
A few months ago while we were finalising the American leg of the trip Nick asked if we would be interested in a Magical Mystery Tour and not really knowing what he meant I said of course we would, we'd be happy to go along with anything. Knowing Nick, I though he might have been arranging a pub tour or drive around the island but soon forgot about the tour as the travels progressed.
We arrived late on Friday evening after being slightly delayed in Miami by some "VIP movements" at the airport. All in and out bound flight where put on hold and we spend almost and hour circling the area while president Bush made his grand departure. So when we finally arrived on the island Nick and Avril where patiently waiting at the airport viewing deck. They spotted us immediately and we were greeted with loud shouts of "Hey Bru!" (a warm South African welcome).
It was great catching up with Nick and Avril over a few drinks but we were told not to stay up too late as Nick's Magical Mystery Tour (MMT) was planned to kick-off at 8:20 sharp and we all needed to be ready before that. I now started doubt if it had anything to do with a pub tour....
We had not problems getting up the next morning after a greats nights rest and all through out breakfast the excitement was building around what Nick's MMT was all about. We found out soon enough when Dan shouted out that the driver had arrived. We walked out to find a sleek white stretch limousine with an immaculately dressed driver with a cap and all! Wow, this was way more than we bargained for! We all hopped in and had so much space you had to raise your voice to chat to someone at the other end of the limo. Neither Inge-Marie nor I had ever been in a limo so this was a real treat for us and as the car pulled off the Champaign was popped starting to feel like celebrities. As we pulled away I looked back down the road a saw a little girl come running out her house clutching a camera and snapping away as we rolled out of sight, now we where really styling!
Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine we'd be cruising the Grand Cayman Island in a limo whilst sipping Champaign. None of us except Nick knew where the limo was taking us so we all sat back sip our bubbly and enjoyed the ride. We slowly made our way towards George Town which is the Islands capital and we were more than content to see the island from our luxurious limo. Before long we started recognising the route the driver was taking as it was the same road we took to get to the Wards house from the airport and before long we had stopped at the airport. Had they had enough of us, were they sending us home? A little panic was setting in.... To our relief we weren't being sent home instead we were soon to realise that the limo ride was nothing compared to what was install next!
We were lead out onto the runway of the airport to a private helicopter that had been awaiting our arrival. The day started out with a big first for us by being chauffeured around the island in a limo and now an even bigger first - a helicopter flight, but not just any helicopter flight, a private tour of the island. The day could not get any better! We lifted of effortlessly and the charismatic French pilot soon got the nerves settled as we rose high above the airport and veered towards the coast line. The first thing you notice about the waters around the island is how crystal clear they are and beautiful shades of blue seem to melt into one another.
From the sky you quickly realise how small the island actually is when you can see all 40 odd kilometres of it. The islands coast line differs vastly from ragged iron-shore to mangroves to sea grass filled bays to long stretches of snow white beaches. As we slowly flew along the shore line we could easily spot turtles lazily swimming by, sharks darting between reef trying to escape the helicopters shadow and massive eagle rays gliding down below. It was almost impossible to count the numerous shades of blue from the deepest blues to the pale blues on the shallows, a true feast for the eyes. And just when we getting very comfortable the pilot showed us how you can surf using a helicopter by skimming across the waves only a few feet from the breaking waves. This was wilder than any rollercoaster we'd ever been on and had us all screaming with delight, well almost all of us.
This flight was without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip and gave us a whole new perspective on how to view the world. Together with the limo ride this day surely would never be topped, or would it? After a smooth touch down we exited the chopper pumped with adrenalin and definitely on a high. Back in the limo we sipped on our Champaign and cruised down the road with no idea where the next stop would be. If the day had ended here it would have been perfect, but Nick still had a few surprises up his sleeve. Not long after our limo pulled up at the yacht marina where once again a private chattered yacht was waiting to take us on cruise of the islands massive north sound. The boat was stocked with Champaign and beer and slowly cruised across the sound to north point where we'd be having lunch. It was a perfect day to be out on the water and we sat back in style and sipped down our drinks. After a great lunch on the other end of the island we boarded the yacht and made our way to the famous Sting Ray city for a swim with the rays.
Sting Ray city is one of the Cayman Islands biggest attractions where thousands of visitors come to interact with the friendly stingrays. When we arrived we were the only boat on the vicinity and very quickly we started noticing the dark bodies of the stingrays congregating below the boat. We were in the water in no time and vary soon had stingrays all around us, they would often swim so close that they would brush past you legs and arms and almost seemed to enjoy the contact when stroked. We had an awesome time playing with these gentle creatures and were almost sad to leave. Before we headed back to the marina we made one last stop to snorkel on the edge of the reef which was teaming with beautiful coloured tropical fish.
After a relaxing smooth sail back to the marina where our limo was waiting to transport us back to the Wards residence. Nick truly pulled out all the stops for what was probably the most special day of our trip so far, and I don't think we'll be able to put into words how much the day meant to us. Thanks so much Nick and Avril, this day will be remembered and talked about for many years to come.
After our amazing magical mystery tour we could simply have sat back for the rest of the week and reminisced about the amazing day but we still had our trip to Cuba to look forward to. The following day we had an all inclusive Champaign brunch reservation where we met with two of Nick's colleagues Omeida who was Cuban and Vallerio who was the company's Cuban cigar buyer. We had a lovely lunch and got some great tips and ideas for our visit to Cuba the following day.
As Inge-Marie explained of two days in Cuba were amazing but we were just as happy to return to the Cayman Islands to enjoy our last few days before leaving for California. As usual we needed to take and entire day off to catch us on some travel admin and do a little planning for South America. Since we had decided not to take a chance with Overland Club we had a lot of planning to do before we hit South America, the first thing we did was post pone our flight to Quito to give a little more time to prepare for South America to make sure we would be prepared and mobile. Now that we had a little more flexibility we investigated spending a few days in Panama which seemed to have a lot to offer but sadly had to scrap that idea when we discovered that we needed a visa that could only be issued from our home country, curse of the little green book strikes again!
During the economic crises in the USA the US Dollar seemed to be going from strength to strength against all currencies for some unknown reason. That's one thing I battle to understand is how when US economy is looking like crashing their currency seems to be getting stronger, if only this had of happened 10 months earlier Australia, New Zealand, Japan and even Europe would have been 20 - 30 % cheaper. (Positive point: thank goodness we were not travelling with Rand's as the Rand devalued from R7.00 to R11.00 in just a few weeks, eina!
After our day of admin, planning and currency woes behind us we got back to enjoying the island which involved a drive around the to north western point of the island, Rum Point and an afternoon parasailing which was another for us and loads of fun. Inge-Marie and Avril attended a cocktail party one evening for the humane society while Nick and I had a boys night out but mostly our remaining time was spend relaxing and enjoying the Wards lovely home. I could go on for hours about how great their home actually is but will save that for another time.
One evening we attended an art exhibition at the Art Society where Avril was exhibiting some of her latest paintings. As Avril explained the purpose of the exhibition was to give all the members of the society, old and new, a chance to exhibit some of their work. There was some very interesting art and much of it had us wondering what we were actually looking at but I guess the point is that everyone has to start somewhere and there are many different styles and tastes out there and they don't necessarily have to make sense to us.
Needless to say it was very hard to leave not just because we were spoilt rotten over the past week but also so say goodbye to our dear friends. Nick, Avril and Dan went out of their way to make the visit special and memorable for us and we truly enjoyed every minute of our stay. It's really sad to have friends living halfway around the world and only getting a few days every couple of years to spend with them. Avril has mentioned that she is arranging a big bash for her 40th birthday party (wink, wink) in Mexico in we'll make every effort to be there and share her special day.
Nick, Avril and Dan, thank you so much. Even though our time with you has only been briefly recorded in the blog we will never forget the special memories you gave us.
The Cayman Islands lye on the northern Caribbean below Cuba and on most maps appear only as little specks. The Cayman Islands consist of three islands of which Grand Cayman is the biggest and most populated and two smaller islands namely Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Like many of the islands in the Caribbean the islands are surrounded by multiple shades of clear blue, warm ocean and have a steamy tropical climate. The Cayman Islands are also well known for their international banks and as a tax haven.