Discovering the island

Photo credit: ADP

NS and I discovered the charms of Grand Cayman for the first time in 2008. Visiting a tropical island is always a memorable experience, especially when you come from a state that gets several feet of snow every winter. As a CPA, it was easy to be excited about the multiple Caribbean stops on our post-busy season cruise in May 2008. However, when you only get to experience each stop for one day, you slap your sunglasses on and assume that this island, like the rest, will be a quick trip of sun and sand, some unique flora and fauna, and perhaps some deeply discounted “designer” handbags before you’re scurrying back to your boat to prepare to do it all again tomorrow. So, to be honest, when I found out that one of my stops on this western Caribbean cruise would be Georgetown, Grand Cayman, I didn’t give it much of a second thought. I figured all the islands were about the same.

Well. I was in for a surprise.

The first thing I noticed as we disembarked to prepare for our tour was that the locals in the docking area were neatly dressed, spoke perfect English, and weren’t harassing me to purchase their wares. My other island experiences involved many solicitations for hair braiding services, all-day tours of the island, and scores of the afore-mentioned handbags. None of these things are day-ruiners; in fact, I’ve taken advantage of these offers multiple times. (Except for the hair braiding. I’m afraid of getting a zebra tan in my scalp.) However, when you’re expecting to put on your “no” face while stepping off the ship for the fourth time in a week, it’s pleasant to avoid the deluge all together.

Photo credit: ADP

Shortly after arriving at the terminal, we found the dock representative who would lead us to our tour guide. We planned a combo tour with Moby Dick Tours for a visit to Stingray City and then snorkeling at the barrier reef. Very soon we were on a boat for a half-hour ride out to the sandbar to see the stingrays. While everyone was busy trying on snorkeling masks and taking pictures of the beautiful surroundings, our group of four quickly made friends with one of the guides. We found out he was an expat from Sicily who had gotten tired of the rat race and decided to move here and give Caribbean living a try. As it turns out, year-round sunshine, crystal clear water, and kissing stingrays every day for a living agreed with him. He couldn’t reiterate to us enough how content he was in Cayman. While he admitted his wages weren’t as high as they could be elsewhere, he led a happy existence. Who were we to criticize?! Loving where you live is underrated.

Photo credit: ADP
Soon we arrived at the sandbar. Other boats had already arrived, each with a group of people clustered around in the waist-deep water, looking down at their ankles. The tour guides jumped out of the boat, encouraging us to follow. They had a hole-filled bucket of squid, which, as soon as they lowered it into the water, attracted the City’s inhabitants. Casting fear aside, we jumped in, put on our snorkeling masks, and greeted the rays. Our guides assured us that these rays were very docile, as tour boats full of curious visitors arrived every day. Their only warning was to prevent the squid to rub against our skin, causing the rays to come up and place a giant hickey on our legs! I let the rest of the crew take care of the food situation; I was more interested in using our disposable underwater camera to capture the experience.



At one point, one of the guides decided it was time to get up close and personal with the rays, so he picked one up that he figured was especially friendly and set us to kissing this thing for good luck. I don’t put much stock in luck, but I figured I didn’t come all this way just to get a little squeamish and forgo a golden opportunity!

After the stingray tour, we hopped back on our tour boat and headed to the barrier reef for some snorkeling. This made me both nervous and excited, since my only snorkeling experience on a previous cruise was anything but relaxing. While I took plenty of swimming lessons when I was growing up and consider myself to be a fairly good swimmer, there is some mental block that I get with putting my face in the water and taking a deep breath in. Every second I am expecting a nose-full of water! Plus, I’m not a particularly good floater, so to concentrate on staying above waver while breathing under water is worse than rubbing my stomach while patting my head. So to make things easier on myself, I donned a life jacket along with my snorkel headgear. This proved to be much easier.

Grand Cayman is known for their diving experiences. At the time of our trip (and at the time of this post), neither NS or myself were certified to dive, but the snorkeling was still amazing. The water was clear, and the fish (and other creatures) plentiful. As we were swimming around, nosily peering in on the underwater world, we noticed that one of the tour guides was diving beneath the surface and swimming near a green eel. He and the eel seemed to be having a great time swirling around each other. NS decided he wanted the full snorkeling experience, so after the guide swam away, NS dove down to the rock where the eel was hiding. His outstretched hand must have seemed laden with food, because as he neared the rock, the eel swam out and snapped at his finger. NS made a quick direction change while I snapped pictures, inwardly laughing. If you know NS, you know that he has been in more than one injurious situation in his life! In talking to the guide later, we found out that he routinely brought food to this eel, making friends with her over time. He also said that eels (at least this kind) are blind, and they react to movement in the water by snapping their jaws to catch any food that might be swimming by. Fortunately, NS escaped with only a small cut.


As our tour ended and we prepared to leave the island, we all continued to comment that this was the nicest island we’d ever been to, the people were so friendly, and the surroundings so beautiful and serene. Little did I know that this trip was the birthing of a dream.

4 comments:

  1. Yes, stingrays and all other rays are beautiful creatures to watch in the water. They move with a lot of grace. I did the scuba dive down in Stingray City (Grand Cayman Island) and a big one accidentally bashed me in the face. Caught it all on video too (now posted on my blog).

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  2. We'll be getting our scuba certifications within the next few weeks as well. It looks so exciting!

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  3. Hi Jenn, just read your first blog entry and have 145 more to go!!! Fun, looking forward to it!!!

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