Michael and Christi had the pleasure of traveling to the island of Grand Cayman, exploring the magnificent Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park, delighting in island delicacies including crispy conch fritters, and even taking a trip to Hell and back.
“If Grand Cayman were your left foot, George Town, the main population center, would be your little toe while West Bay and the village of “Hell” would be your big toe. East Bay, with its expanse of beach and blowholes spouting from coral rock, would be your heel.
Our hotel lay on Seven Mile Beach, a sweep of white sand painted along the toenails of the foot. After getting situated Wednesday afternoon and enjoying the sunset on the beach, we hailed a taxi and headed to Ristorante Pappagallo in West Bay for dinner.
Built on a tiny island surrounded by a lagoon, Pappagallo’s round, thatch-roof buildings with high ceilings and soft lighting help create an ambiance of island decadence, at once casual and relaxed, luxurious and posh. One has to cross a small bridge over a lagoon with giant tarpon swimming underneath to reach the restaurant entrance. We were greeted at the front door by a maitre ‘d flanked by cages holding two brilliantly colored macaws. After ordering Italian chardonnay and a cracked conch appetizer, we watched the water cascading over the restaurant’s waterfall into the lagoon. After an absurdly delicious dinner of fresh grilled snapper marinated with local herbs, and squid simmered in black ink served over homemade pasta, we headed back to the hotel for a much-anticipated good night’s sleep.
British Hospitality, Island Style
During our tour around the island, we found this British Crown Colony notably clean and relaxingly safe. The Caymanians were not just confident and friendly, but accommodating in a way we hadn’t anticipated and sincere in their kindness and generosity.
Friday night, we attended the Cayman Island Showcase 2001 “Welcome” cocktail hour on the patio at the Wharf Restaurant. The casual atmosphere with the upbeat island music, tropical breeze and sunset view out over the ocean gave us a chance to really soak in the friendly spirit and warm heart of the island. A delicious array of finger food, including steamed shrimp, crab cakes, conch fritters, smoked fish and fresh fruit, was piled on the tables lined up around the iridescent pool. At exactly 9 p.m. a school of silver tarpon arrived in the waters just off the hotel for their nightly feeding. These schools arrive so precisely at a certain time at certain restaurants each night that you can set your watch by it. The kids in particular enjoyed tossing bits of bread and chicken into the sea and watching the darting flashes of these 4-foot-long fish wrestling around for scraps.
Turtles and a Trip to Hell
We joined the showcase’s all-day tour Saturday and were able to visit the Turtle Farm, Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park and the old stone house at Pedro St. James.
The Turtle Farm is home to 16,000 turtles, mostly endangered Green Sea Turtles. When Christopher Columbus first sighted the Cayman Islands in 1503, he noted that the only “settlers” were hundreds of sea turtles. After centuries of over-harvesting, the Green Sea Turtle reached the brink of extinction and was placed on the Endangered Species list. The turtle farm breeds and raises turtles to meet the local demand for turtle meat, and also releases hundreds of baby turtles into the wild each year.
The 65-acre Botanical Park features a floral garden where the tropical fauna is grouped by color. Bright splashes of yellow, pink, orange, red, white, mauve and blue are sprinkled around the lush grounds overlooking a lake.
Pedro St. James, the oldest stone building in the Caymans, attracts history buffs interested in the legends and folklore of the islands.
Saturday night we attended the Showcase “Island Night” beach barbecue at Rum Point’s Reef Resort on the north shore, feasting on pig roasted whole on a spit over an open fire and dancing to Jimmy Buffett tunes. All the guests were transported back to Seven Mile Beach late that night by ferry. As we crossed the North Sound and made our way around Conch Point, the sea appeared a lucid midnight blue and a million stars twinkled in the clear, Caribbean sky.
By Sunday, it was time to “Go to Hell,” so we rented a jeep and drove to the blackened limestone beach area known fondly as, well, “Hell”. The village has a post office where one can get a card postmarked from Hell. Here, you see T-shirts with all kinds of clever slogans such as, “I took your advice,” and “Came here in a hand basket.”
We left Hell behind us and went to have a look at the heavenly sea creatures in Stingray City. The giant stingrays have become accustomed to human visitors over the years and are tame to the point where divers can hand-feed and pet them. Cayman’s Department of the Environment has issued some “voluntary” guidelines for the many tour operators in the area in hopes of creating a situation where the wild creatures won’t become completely dependent upon human caretakers, yet humans are still able to witness up-close these magnificent creatures.
We headed to “Hook’s,” a family-friendly local favorite restaurant that serves seafood and sushi, Sunday night for our last dinner on the island. As we savored the sashimi, salmon and yellowfin, we count the many things we had discovered during our short stay on Grand Cayman and hoped we would be invited back next year to make some more footprints on this delightful tropical island.”
For more about Michael and Christi’s trip to Grand Cayman, click here.