A final farewell

Our last day in Grand Cayman – we arrive at Seven Mile Beach. At last, the morning contains the sounds I remember, rather than a multitude of roosters crowing. In the trees doves coo and in the distance I can hear the Cayman parrot. The topaz-blue sea laps in and out, and when I stand on the water line I feel the soft sand wrapping around my toes as the water slurps around my feet.

There are no rocks on this beach. Rather, there are chunks of coral washing in and out with the waves, gradually morphing into sand. I think of what some local divers told Simon during our visit. They have done some very deep dives and at a depth of 300 feet, they find what looks like another shoreline. I wonder what that means as I walk along the beach with hubby, soaking up the early morning time when few people are out.

I think about the hurricanes … how Ivan’s surge divided the little island into three pieces for a time and traumatized a group of Canadian expatriates so deeply that they left everything and returned to Canada. One said that living through the hurricane was like believing you could die at any moment for 30 hours. After the storm, his Caymanian house was gone – all he could find was the cement pad. Ivan is the reason for all the feral chickens – their coops blew away and those that survived never came home. I look at the sea, so peaceful. The sand, with a smattering of tiny shells and pieces of coral. The beaches used to be covered with shells. I gather a small handful and tuck them in my pocket.

A few words of the national song float in my memory, from National Heroes Day:

O sea of palest em’rald,
Merging to darkest blue,
When ‘ere my thoughts fly Godward,
I always think of you.

Cayman and its people remain as lovely and complex as the surrounding seas.

A momentary trail of footsteps, soon to be erased
A momentary trail of footsteps, soon to be erased
A fave from hubby's shots
A fave from hubby’s shots
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Departing memories – a gallery

We visited the small fish market at the harbor in Georgetown, where fishermen come to sell each day. As they clean their catch, brown pelicans arrive, ready to catch fish heads tossed their way. A few steps away, amazingly large tarpon hover in the shallows, ready to devour whatever bits find their way into the ocean. A teenager hooks some meat on a line, throws it toward the school of tarpon and immediately one of them bites, surges into the air and in moments snaps his line.

Arriving for a delicious meal of fish heads.
Arriving for a delicious meal of fish heads.

Geckos and iguanas are almost as plentiful as the chickens. Given the amount of bug spray I had to use, I was grateful for the little geckos. Especially this guy, who lives inside a wall ornament on the balcony of the condo we rented. One afternoon, an iguana draped himself over the patio door frame of another condo – it was amusing to see about 2 1/2 feet of lizard dangling over someone’s door.

Living the good lizard life in Cayman
Living the good lizard life in Cayman

Who says signs have to be serious? I wish I could have spent more time taking pictures of signs that tickled my funnybone, such as one tacked to the front of a harborside fish café that proclaimed, “Any fresher and you’d have to slap us!”

A whimsical sign at the harbor in Georgetown
A whimsical sign at the harbor in Georgetown
I wonder what the punishment would be...
I wonder what the punishment would be…

A dolphin encounter enterprise left me with mixed feelings. Families came to get in the pools with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, who chirpily perform tricks and connect with kids and adults in return for fish treats. What better way for people, especially children, to gain a lifetime appreciation for these incredible creatures, than to interact with them? But the confines of their captivity bothered me, even though they have a lively life enriched by socialization with humans.

Dolphins in the air, trainers focused on cellphones. Hmmm.
Dolphins in the air, trainers focused on cell phones. Hmmm.

Across the street from the dolphins is a turtle farm that breeds green sea turtles, native to these seas. Somehow, this operation manages to pull off breeding turtles for consumption plus breeding for release and charging a large sum to allow visitors to walk around tanks of them. Visitors can even sponsor a turtle for release (not to a plate – to the ocean). I have always been fascinated by turtles and when I saw them while snorkeling in Hawaii, would follow them around in the water. Eating them is not an option for me, though they are said to be tasty. Their shells are a work of art – each one different – and their eyes are expressive. Hanging around all over the farm are iguanas. My sister and I do not remember ever seeing an iguana when we were on the island all those years ago so we are fascinated with them now. The blue iguana, native to Cayman, is highly endangered and threatened by other species that have arrived more recently.

See what I mean about the eyes?
See what I mean about the eyes?
A handsome fellow hangs out at the turtle farm

Sunrises are as beautiful as sunsets here. Not being a morning person, I was delighted to discover the sun does not fully rise until 7 a.m. The sun sets, far more quickly than in the northern hemisphere, at 6 p.m.

Sunset at Bonnie's Arch condos
Sunset at Bonnie’s Arch condos
Sunrise over Georgetown
Sunrise over Georgetown

A favorite memory … dinner at the Cracked Conch (pronounced Konk) restaurant, which has outside decks built right up to the shore. As night fell, we watched divers come and go, their lamps glimmering in the sea like underwater fireflies. This was our best meal out with excellent service, but pricey. If you go, assume $75 – $90 per person, U.S. for an entrée, a shared appetizer and one drink.

By the beautiful sea

Looking at the ocean from the shores of Grand Cayman, I recall flying over Cuba to get here and think of Hemingway and his book, The Old Man and the Sea, with its intense examination of our fascinating, challenging and sometimes consuming relationship with the sea. Obsession and this glorious watery world seem well paired. I found an older Smithsonian article about Hemingway’s time in Cuba, which is worth a read.

Coming to Cayman is all about the multi-hued water. Being near it, on it or in it. Yes, the sun is amazing, but it is the equation of sun and sea that makes a visit complete. Without the sea, the sun is nearly unbearable in the afternoons. By the sea, it is delightfully pleasant. And in the sea, it is magical.

Early morning on famous Seven Mile Beach

Floating over staghorn coral at the Cobalt Coast Resort, l look down and see fish stacked up in the branches, adding dashes of color to their underwater condo. Some look up at me looking down at them, as we all move with the rhythms of the water. Peering through my mask it seems I can almost touch them. Twenty feet down, the fish know better and maintain their posts.

Cobalt Coast Resort
Cobalt Coast Resort

My favorite spot to snorkel was Sunset House, where I saw a large barracuda, a shoal of fluttering squid and other fascinating creatures. It’s the oldest dive resort on the island – the dive shop operation opened in the 1970s. Storm surge from hurricanes wiped out parts of the hotel more than once, but it’s been rebuilt and maintains its iconic charm. A short swim out from shore is Amphitrite, Simon’s equally iconic mermaid sculpture, 50 feet down. We were told that during Hurricane Ivan, her head was spotted in the wave troughs – a fearful example of the storm’s power. Amazingly, she was not damaged. Even more amazingly, Tradition, Simon’s other sculpture, also emerged undamaged. At the time, it overlooked the harbor, but spent three days underwater in storm surge. Later it was moved a couple of blocks inland to Heroes Square.

Looking out from Sunset House
Looking out from Sunset House

The divers in our group liked the Cobalt Coast best for a shore dive. We also snorkeled and dove off the “backyard” of Bonnie’s Arch condominiums, where we stayed during our visit. We hooked up the condo’s ladder to the rocks and dropped right in the sea, where the fish were plentiful, including the spectacular Lionfish, which are a spreading scourge in the Caribbean and other warmer waters.

Swimming was fun in the warm, shallow waters of Rum Point. Heavy surf and churning sand meant low visibility at Smith’s Cove, so no snorkeling there, but plenty of wave jumping! The water has high salinity, so everywhere we jump in, we feel weightless … floating is a breeze.

Early morning on famous Seven Mile Beach
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The “backyard” of Bonnie’s Arch condos