December 2001by Christi and Michael
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, (and still gloating over our early arrival on the island.) 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.
Thursday morning, after a fittingly English breakfast of boiled eggs and toast served with small plates of tropical fruit, we met up with our local representative to see 10 of the island's villas. All day Thursday, we criss-crossed the island from west to east and looped around the north coast, exploring spacious mansions with private pools, and homes connected to quiet paths leading to secluded beaches. We were able to see the charming North Side, with its old style "wattle and daub" homes, explore the Cayman Kai and Rum Point areas and stop briefly on the Eastern shore at the sight of worst ship wreck in Cayman history. In 1794, a convoy of 10 British merchant vessels went aground in strong winds and rough seas on Gun Bluff, a reef two miles off the east coast. Cayman history is liberally soaked with seafaring tales of pirates, privateers and sailors, and many of yesterday's most infamous shipwrecks are today's most popular dive sites.
We cried "uncle" from the villa touring by mid-afternoon and stopped for a late lunch at the Lighthouse Restaurant on the south coast. Collapsing on the waterfront patio, we ordered a round of tropical fruit smoothies and enjoyed the cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. After spicy crab cakes and conch salad, we feasted on tuna steak (which Michael ordered rare, spiked with wasabi) and the house special, Tuna Penne Puttanesca, fresh tuna with basil, shallots, capers and garlic.
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. Michael noted that, although he had visited the islands before on a cruise ship, he felt as if he was seeing the island for the first time and finally getting a sense of what was "really there."
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.
We actually gave away our complimentary Travis Tritt concert tickets (scheduled for that night) and retired early to prepare for Friday, the first full day of the conference.
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