Grand Cayman Island:
Anatomy of an Island
by Christi and Michael
Friday morning we attended the opening forums of the showcase and then decided to head over to the Hyatt to check out the new sushi restaurant, Bamboo. While we were there, we took a pass through the Hyatt's lobby where a scene from the movie "The Firm" (starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman and Holly Hunter) was filmed. After lunch, Michael opted to take the beach route back to the hotel, while Christi hit the boutiques, searching through the souvenir shops for T-shirts to take home to her family. This offshore banking center seemed to have as many banks as shops. At last count, the Cayman Islands is home to 570 banking outlets.
For those who are looking for souvenirs instead of deposit slips, the Tortuga Rum Company produces some of the island's most popular keepsakes, including Tortuga Rum Cake, rum truffles, rum mints, Hell Fire hot sauce and Tortuga pepper jelly. Black coral and tortoiseshell trinkets are also sold in many stores, but tourists are prohibited from importing into the U.S. products made from endangered species.
Friday night, the Department of Tourism sponsored a showcase of Caribbean food at the Holiday Inn. The island's top chefs served up a long list of local specials, including Jamaican chicken curry, steamed lobster, grilled grouper with cilantro salsa, mussels gratin, sesame seed encrusted yellowfin tuna, and turtle steaks. A steel band, dancers and fire-eaters kept the crowds clapping late into the night.
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 handbasket."
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.