I left the white snowcapped mountains of the Canadian West Coast and migrated South on an island of the Caribbean. I left altitude and met sea level, left black bears and squirrels to meet tropical birds and lizards, left a heart at home and brought a soul on the road.
Like the Whistler of BC, the Beach of Thailand, the Sayulita of Mexico or the Goa of India, Grand Cayman is just an other bubble in our world. With few locals (born and raise on the island, mostly from Jamaican and West Indian ancestors), we found mostly expats (Canadian and American and a few British). People came here for a season, two, four, seven years ago! Rings a bell Whistlerites? That’s right, there is something about this island that people like. An avoidance of the seasons? An isolation from society? A party life? A runaway from home? A soul searching journey? Whatever reason it is, everybody seems to have found an escape on this little piece of Zion.
The islanders are very religious. In fact, all bars and clubs, with no exceptions, close at midnight on Saturdays and Sundays, and rare are the businesses open on Christ Day (as well as the public transport which makes it very annoying when you want to make your way to work).
Smoking is a trend of 99% of the population of the island (ok, I just made that assumption, but it surely feels like it). Luckily, the Cayman’s Tobacco Law was established in 2009 and since keeps the public places smoke-free.
The island seems mostly clean to the tourist’s eyes. But when you look at it carefully, there is no recycling, no bottle depot and the highest point of the island is Mt Trashmore, the garbage dump! There is definitely some catch up to do to get in line with the Western world!
Only inhabited by turtles, lizards and camanyas (Carib Indian word for large marine crocodile that used to live on the island), the Cayman Islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1503 while his ship was derived by wind while on route to Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic). For nearly a century, the islands remained unsettled but were used as a practical stop for pirates and other vessels to supply their crew with meat (edible lizards and turtles). Western Europeans slowly migrated to the islands, along with refugees from the Spanish Inquisition and deserters from the British army in Jamaica. Half of the population at the time was slaves.
An important event occurred in 1794 when a ship struck an East End reef and nine others ”fell like dominoes”. With the help of Caymanians, most of the crews survived. The famous ”Wreck of the Ten Sails” heroic rescue was thankful by King George III that granted the islands a tax-free status.
It is only for the past decencies that famous hotels and buildings mushroomed along the sea shores. With many cruise ships stopping by and cheap flights from Miami and Atlanta, Grand Cayman attracts tourists seeking a paradisiac getaway. Seven Mile Beach fills its waters with floating bars, water tractors, giant balls, banana boats and forever drunks.
After 6 days straight of work, 9 to 11 hours a shift, I finally get my first day off. The girls and I got hooked up by the captain of a boat and jumped on our complimentary ride to Sting Ray City. It is early in the morning and the sun beams and shines in the sky and the waters are absolutely hypnotic. I feel like a grain of sugar in a blue Curacao cocktail garnished with a lemon wedge. Delicious scenery. We reserved our place on the front trampoline of the 40ft catamaran and started navigation in the open sea. While Jack Johnson scratches his guitar through the speakers of the marine drive, I admire the waters and embrace the sun. And after an hour ride, we arrived to the sand bar.
Ok. This isn’t real. I mean, the water is pure and clear, I am standing in the middle of the ocean, white sand cushioning under my feet and hundreds of wild sting rays swimming around me. From the small 20lbs males, to the large 200lbs females, to the tropical fishes cruising around, there is no where to be bored. The sting rays are amazingly beautiful creatures that seem to enjoy being pet by curious tourists. I have to admit, it is a bit overwhelming to have hundreds of them reptile between and around your legs (remember the Crocodile Dundee?), but once you get used to it, you let it go and just enjoy every second of it. They are soft, friendly and majestic. Definitely a box to check on your list!
#63. Swim with the sting rays √
We sailed back to the dock. The wind was pure and warm. I could definitely do this all my life…
A couple of hours later, we decided to go on an offshore dive on the South shore of the island. I am nervous, scared and unprepared. I haven’t dive since Sri Lanka and it is probably my 7th dive in my life. No instructor this time. Just my Open Water card, rentals and friends with the same qualification. Oh boy! Luckily, Eva’s boyfriend is experienced and very patient. We slowly dive underwater and discover the majesty of the Caribbean water wonders.
I feel like a foreign flea in a bag of tropical skittles. I feel so tiny in an universe of crazy colors. I dove Panama and Sri Lanka, but gotta tell ya, this is over and beyond expectations. I feel free and light, I feel peaceful, safe and sound. Tropical fish, turtles, caves and much more. Please, let me do this more often!
We surfaced from the waters and reached horizon. It is slightly raining and the sunset is amazing. Swam to the shore and dried out. Wow. This is, indeed, the Island Life!
Diving was amazing. However, after descending quickly a few meters, my right ear clogged real fast and wouldn’t ”equalize”. It isn’t the first time it happens. When I first move to Whistler, I was going up and down the mountain every day. The daily altitude change affected my ears and it took a few months to adapt. Ever since, I get ear problems and this time it really hurts. My right ear stayed clogged for a week after diving and I was worried of some serious infection or dysfunction. A bartender at work suggested the idea of a new terrain, a new environment to acclimate. I wanted to believe his philosophy and followed a natural treatment from divers (drops of a mix of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar). After a few days of positive thinking and home-made medicine, my body adapted itself and I feel great!
Work, Wine and Wonders
Back at work. It is constantly busy but for once, I don’t mind it. Since I have no one to go home to, no doggy to feed, no dinner to get ready, all I can do is work and make money. It is one of the reason I came here and I stick to it. Although my days are spent at work or catching up on some sleep at the beach, I still like to enjoy a fresh fruit sangria after work at the Deckers terrace, or grab lunch at the beach bar of Calico’s. My favorite is Agua’s Lounge, where they offer their industry discount on delicious tapas from 10:30pm to midnight. I then savor an incredible tuna tartare and a delicate beef carpaccio paired with a crisp glass of wine.
Yes, I do feel homesick sometimes. It is a feeling I never lived, as I always traveled with someone. But it is something I need to grow out of it and build myself stronger. I slowly make hearty connection with people and, even though my roots and my heart are back home, I know that these interactions and this new experience will teach me new things. Will grow new leaves.