MERRY TIME ADVENTURES GRAND CAYMAN STYLE
By Rick Millikan
Carnival Valor® loops through the Caribbean Sea to ports offering fun and adventure. Grand Cayman proves especially intriguing. While other passengers choose to snorkel off Seven Mile Beach or dive at several reef sites, my spouse Chris and I opt for an overview excursion that includes the extraordinary Stingray City! Even after discussing Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's tragic stingray incident, we look forward to the thrill of communing with these fascinating creatures.
Our bus driver introduces himself with a lesson on survival. "I'm George Whatley. My ancestors arrived here after British abolished slavery in 1834, destroying the sugarcane industry. But instead of compensating plantation owners, the Brits eliminated our taxes..." That's why international banks line Georgetown's streets. And the many high-end-jewelry and fashion shops exist to sell glitter and glamour to visiting investors.
George notes, "After sugarcane, our next big industry was boat building, which depleted the forests a century later. Nowadays, you happy tourists are our number one industry! Thank you!"
At our stop in Hell, he tells us, "The local council thought this area might draw hunters to shoot water fowl. But when a tourism official visited, he said the place looked just like hell, so they renamed their tiny town…"
Promptly finding demonic pools, we see black algae encrusting upturned coral, or with a little imagination, charred bones thrusting upward from an eerie cauldron. Taking turns, we pose in front of this horrifying pond. Naturally, shops offer clever souvenirs including T-shirts and hats emblazoned with, "This is the T-shirt from Hell" and similar sentiments. Many visitors, including me, mail postcards from Hell's Post Office saying, "Wish you were here!"
But the island's sweetest success comes in the form of a Rum Cake, now Grand Cayman's largest export. At a nearby bakery, our group samples chocolate, pineapple, mango, vanilla, coconut, lemon and other delicious moist morsels, washing them down with rum cream aperitifs. The grinning clerk invites me to, "Try out da melt-in-da mout' mango!" I accept one final rum-soaked slice and teeter off humming an old ditty, "Can you imagine a sorrier sight, than a man eating rum cake until he gets tight!"
We next visit a large turtle sanctuary nearby. Having heard Grand Cayman lost its namesake caiman (a small alligator-like reptile) long ago, we're eager to support citizens' efforts to protect endangered turtles. Here, sleek green turtles of all sizes paddle in a network of pools. Raised from eggs, most of these reptiles are released as one year-olds; their size ensures a survival rate of over 80%. Chris and I pick up and cradle two wiggly rotund turtles.
Rumbling onward in the bus, George drops us at a dock where we board a large catamaran bound for Stingray City, undoubtedly Grand Cayman's most unique and exciting destination. Skin Diver Magazine first reported this spot and its 'tame' rays to the world in 1987. Many years ago Caymanians noticed southern Atlantic stingrays gathering here whenever returning fisherman cleaned their catch. When fish parts were chucked overboard in this reef-protected water, rays rallied, relishing these fishy feasts. Like dinner bells, rumbling boat engines attracted more and more rays; soon divers hand-fed them without any stinging incidents.
At this unique sandbar seven miles out, the captain quips, "No liquor at this sand-bar… these oceanic babes slurp up only squid juice!" Entering the shallow water, dark whippy-tailed females with six-foot wingspans and an entourage of smaller males surround us. Some fellow passengers panic as these large bat-like rays brush past; several anxiously re-board. Others dab on 'squid perfume' promptly attracting, then cuddling, a Miss Norma or Martha Ray.
As reported, these stingrays prove very docile. Snorkeling about in the warm, pristine water, I watch these fearsome looking critters prowl effortlessly in circles. Skimming the sandy bottom, they readily detect electrical and chemical impulses from their prey including crabs, shellfish and worms.
Standing up, I see them as a pageant of piscine pulchritude. Either my manly manner or eau de fish-and-chips attracts one radiant ray. This white-bellied belle flaps straight toward me…and flops her slippery self right into my arms! Clutching her rubbery body, I gaze into her dreamy topside eyes. Realizing that Rita Ray and I live in very different worlds, and since our brief merry time romance cannot endure, I wish my pretty pet a poignant farewell. She swoops away.
In just one heavenly day on Grand Cayman we pass through Hell finding delicious grogginess, tottering turtles and high seas' romance!
IF YOU GO:
Carnival Ships depart Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa to stop at Cayman Island between mid-May and late December. Find out more at: http://www.carnival.com
Cayman Island Tourism offers information on its island culture, activities and possibilities at www.caymanislands.ky/
1 Cayman Capital's Pier- Colorful Georgetown can be a shopper's paradise!
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