The Cayman Islands

Published: February 22nd 2014
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Grand Cayman – Cruise Ship Central

We arrive in Grand Cayman 1hr 10 mins after taking off from Miami International Airport (MIA). The irony is that we fly across Cuba to get here (Cuba is where we really want to go – GC is really the entry and exit point for us but we’ve decided to spend a few days R&R here before and after Cuba as it’s supposed to be stunning. We are unable to fly to Cuba direct from the USA due to the very childish behaviour of both countries over many years!

The airport at GC is very small and looks more like a large bungalow. It’s tropical, clean and basic with good Tourist info. It’s Sunday and we don’t realise that the main shops are all closed – so it’s eating out tonight then. We get through customs and get a Taxi from the central stand outside – prices are regulated and to get to the Eldermire’s Tropical Inn where we are booked takes about 15 mins to drive to & costs $18 US. Which is pretty expensive – so welcome to GC.

At the Inn we use the phone to call the owners and are told the key is under the mat! Make ourselves at home. The place looks really homely, is very colourful & has a small pool and BBQ area and is surrounded by tropical plants. Our room is a studio apartment with kitchen/dining area which is great as we plan to eat in some nights to keep costs down – GC is very expensive. The cheapest decent accommodation we could find was Eldemire’s for circa £90 per day – there are no Hostels here. Independent Travellers beware!

We meet Tootie the owner and are recommended to go to the Sunset House Inn/Bar/Restaurant about 5 mins walk away. Caybrew (local) Beer, Mahi Mahi Burger & fries for lunch by the sea was pretty good. But at $24US ……..? Two currencies operate here; US$ and CI$. 1 CI$ is 1.2 US$ so things priced in local currency are more expensive than they look at first. (If paying by credit card they will only take the money in US$). Although there are no taxes tips are 10-15% for most things and are added to the bill.

It’s warm, slightly humid & 86 degrees – nice, so we try the local beach, Smiths Cove, which is crowded with locals as its Sunday & all are armed with picnics. It’s a really small beach but walkable from our Inn. We notice that the local houses are all colourful, bungalows mainly, with manicured gardens and lawns, some with Iguanas on them (the local species is Blue but there are some very bright green ones too). Folk seem to take care of their homes and gardens very well.

Dinner is back at the Sunset House where we try Conch Soup & Conch Fritters – both local specialities - more Caybrew, and then back to the ranch for a good night’s sleep.

On the second day we walk into George Town (about 1 mile away). It’s about 9.30 am and the world seems asleep with no one around. George Town is pretty non-descript – it’s mainly a Port calling point for the Cruise ships and we discover that when the ships are in the Town the place comes alive – a living to be made folks so move, move, move. Most of the shops are Duty Free for fancy watches, Gems, booze etc. There are a lot of banks here too. However, No ships = sleep longer or don’t show for work!

There is a small Museum – one Bungalow with a Blue Post Box outside with EIIR on it. It may not seem like it but The Caymans are British Territory – however, most things seem to operate like the US territory – the currency, the design and layout of the hotels, Malls, Condos (mainly 2nd homes for rich Americans) etc. It could be one of the Keys in Florida. The other main tourist sight is ‘Fort George’ make up your own mind – see the picture attached.

The main attraction for the day trippers (arrive9.30/10am and leave 3 or 4pm) is a trip to Seven Mile Beach which is a nice but not amazing stretch of beach – white sands, Caribbean feel but not the Maldives or other nicer beaches we have seen. It’s also devoid of any shops or shacks to get anything to eat or drink; the whole seafront is taken up by condos and hotels with occasional cut throughs back to the main road and local malls.

A local bus to the beach cost 2CI$s each which is not too bad. The bus service on this stretch is the best – for the rest of the island it’s hit and miss. There are a few snorkelling points along the coast and equipment hire etc is about CI$14

We walk to Kirk’s Supermarket to stock up on food and beers but even basic stuff is pretty expensive we find. We buy some lovely fish fillets to try called Swai – from Miami & reasonable. We also buy Tilapia for another day. Most of the food is imported so is expensive even in the Supermarket; local produce when available is displayed as ‘Local’ and more affordable.

In spite of the cost - 50CI$ for a day, we rent a scooter (the most expensive scooter hire ever for us. Mind you, cars are US $100 per day here whilst we have hired one in Florida for $30 per day!!) The scooter is to get us about the Island as George Town & the Seven Mile Beach doesn’t do it for us and we hear that other parts of GC are much nicer. Besides the weather forecast is a bit iffy – so off we go. After a while we hit Bodden Town (ex-Capital of GC) and before we know it we’re through the other side. It’s really small & hasn’t much to offer by way of charm or differentiation from other parts of the Island.

We then decide to cut across the middle of the island and hit Old Man’s Bay area which has some degree of charm and a lovely little café called Over the Edge with a lovely terrace over the sea – we stop for a coffee & they give us some complementary fried bread (like dumplings – very nice with butter or Cag’s style with sugar!?)

We decide not to stop for lunch, as we think we’ll be back later and go on to Rum Point at the most northern part of the island. It’s great. Lots of quirky signs, colourful huts and hammocks and packed with families. It has a much more relaxed vibe than 7MB. Unfortunately, about 10 minutes after we arrive the heavens open – big time. We take shelter until it eases and as the clouds around look pretty heavy we decide to make a dash for it back to the ranch – so no lunch stop I’m afraid.

Dinner is at Myrtles in the 7 Mile Beach Shopping Mall complex – as we decide to try the National dish – Turtle Stew. It’s the only place in town that has it on the menu. The Caymans are the only place on earth that one can eat Turtle legally. They do it in soup, as steak or in a burger. The flavour in the stew is not particularly inspiring or outstanding – it’s a stew with fish like bits in it. We won’t try it again – maybe the steak who knows?

Its overcast & raining the next day, so we hand back the scooter and make for Da Fish Shack, overlooking the bay, for a beer. The heavens open and we stay in for a while and drink more than intended but hey what else do we do when it’s bucketing it down. As the rain eases, we head to lunch at Singh’s Roti shop – where we have amazing conch curry & goat curry rotis (sort of chapatti wraps) – Trinidad style - really good with hot chilli sauce. And not a bad price either. We’ll be back – weather permitting.

As we walk back the rain starts again, and just as we are resigned to a soaking, Dawn, a taxi lady arrives, accepts our offer of half what she asked for and gets the rest of our business for all our trips!

We have the tilapia for dinner (pretty good), catch up with Tootie again and then pack up ready for our flight to Cuba in the morning.

It’s dull in the morning so we abandon our plans of hitting the beach for an hour and do some last minute emails etc instead. Dawn arrives to taxi us to the airport (CI$14) and it’s very relaxed, quiet and easy. We’ve arrived in plenty of time so inevitably our flight is delayed by 45 mins even though the plane was sitting outside all the time – not sure why & no explanation given. Hey ho!! We assume it’s Caribbean standard time.

But we don’t care; Cuba, here we come!!!

P.S in looking at some of the pictures for this blog we are a bit concerned that they make GC look pretty alluring. We assure you (Eldermire’s aside) it is not and in our view the Caribbean has a lot of nicer islands with more charm, character and history to make a trip meaningful, & they are also more affordable – so give them a try first.

Little Cayman Island – Island of peace, solitude, Iguanas & sand flies

We arrive in Grand Cayman from Havana on time with Cayman airways. Same ritual through customs and then a taxi to Eldermire’s B & B. We have the room by the pool and it’s pretty sumptuous. We discover that the food we had left behind (to take to Little Cayman) is missing but Tootie the owner helps out and kindly replenishes some of the key ingredients. Again it’s a Sunday so it’s off to Sunset House for burgers (Cheese & Mahi mahi – Cajun style) with chips and a few pints of Caybrew by the sea. Lovely.

We are up early as it’s Monday and the supermarkets will now be open and we have been warned to take provision to Little Cayman as it expensive there; apparently folks from LC come to GC to shop for food & drink. The taxi arrives at 8.15am, then we head straight to Fosters Food Fair – a large place near the airport.

We rush around and get enough food for 3 or 4 days as we will eat out somewhere on Valentine’s Day. The Supermarket guys are so geared up for this they recommend a box (which they provide aswell as tape to seal it up) to put all the stuff in and to put it into the hold – wow! Very helpful for us but a regular occurrence here. Despite the agreed CI$15 the taxi driver asks for CI$20 as she had to wait at the supermarket – first and happily only case of a rip off in the Caymans.

The flight is on a small plane (reminds us of our trip in Nepal to Lukla airport for the Everest base camp Trek), and 35 mins later we are in Little Cayman – at the smallest airport we have seen in the world. Just one small building. We are met by Tarrah from Sunset Cove the place we are staying – 2 miles away. Before getting there she suggests a stop at the ‘Village’ – which is a small parade of buildings with a bank (opens only Monday & Thursday 9am to 2.30 – and they take an hour for lunch!! Obviously overworked folk), the grocery store & the liquor store, where we jump into for some cold beers.

We get to the “resort” by midday and it’s off to the sunbeds. The place is empty apart from us and is a combination of 4 large shacks – 2 with rooms it seems – colourfully painted, the others being the office and Beach Bum Café where they do food, and a sea sports equipment place. The place is made for chilling. It reminds us of the Cayes in Belize – palm trees, hammocks, a small pier going out into the sea which is protected by the reef about 200mtrs away – so is calm and gentle.

The place has 3 resident Rock Iguanas as pets which are the local species unlike Grand Cayman which has blue iguanas and green ones brought in from Latin America. In fact if either of these were bought to LC they would be killed as they are committed to preserving the indigenous variety.

The sun is pretty hot and we are quickly being roasted. It all seems pretty idyllic. Surprisingly their Wi-Fi works a treat and we try Face Time with folks back home and surprise surprise it works – so we enjoy good long chats with Sarah, Louise, Ben & Olive – who looks more grown up by the day. We have been very adequately supplied with pictures and videos of her laughing and rolling around – keeps us cheered up. We also catch up with Romi and John on his birthday; funnily no-one seems to empathise with our complaints about sunburn; the UK weather is shocking, and has been pretty much since we left home.

The first night’s dinner was to be a BBQ jerk pork but the guys don’t have enough lighting fuels so it’s fish with fried rice and veg helped down with cold Caybrew & Havana Club – smuggled in from Cuba. It all goes down a treat. We do manage the BBQ on the beach the next night – though get eaten alive by sand flies for our trouble.

During the day it’s more of the same just chilling (or in our case getting roasted like lobsters). There’s not much to do here but relax and take in the rays. We could take a canoe across to Owen Island or hire a bike and cycle around the island, but somehow it all seems too energetic!

We do go diving though. Blood Bay Wall is a world famous dive site and even though it’s a bit pricey ($US95 for 2 dives each + $12 each for the BCD, the computer, the wetsuit + the regulator = a lot!!! But that’s the going rate) we came here for this.

Diving starts early so we are up and ready for 7am, Tarrah drops us off at the departure point where we join a group of very experienced US divers – they have been diving all week. Oddly the weather is overcast and there’s a breeze out, so the sea is a bit choppy as we go out, however, as soon as we turn the point and head due east towards the Blood Bay Wall the sea is calmer.

The first dive is at the Mixing Bowl and C has real problems with equalising so decides to stay up and snorkel while M sets off with Tim the Dive master. Visibility was awesome and there’s a combination of great coral and fish species, the highlight a very big lobster, grouper, parrot fish etc – no sharks!

The next dive is at Coconut Walk and our Dive master is Claire who suggests C try going down slowly ahead of the others holding the mooring rope – this works – Yes, and we are off. This is another good site with a mix of soft and hard coral – lovely colours, a good variety of fish, much bigger than the last site, 2 enormous lobsters – biggest we have ever seen, a green eel and finally 2 Turtles together – seem like mum and Little one (slightly grown up). A great way to end!! All in all 2 good dives, but M is not sure he would put them in his top 5.

On the way back we notice the sea has got a higher swell and we bounce around a bit – M is thankful for the sea sickness pill he had taken. C is disappointed that they charged for her first dive but they forgot to charge for the extras so we only pay US$190 for both of us which seems reasonable to us.

We get back with the intention of cycling the Island and do a bit of exploring as the weather is overcast & there’s a good breeze which will make the trip easier than in the heat. As we are talking to Tarrah it starts to rain a bit, then a few minutes later it comes down a lot so we have a sleep in instead!! Maybe it was meant to be as we have been out in the sun a lot and are delicate in places. Also it gives us a chance to listen to the various compilations of music we have now got from itunes, Blues, Reggae etc

During our final day we are really lazy and chill out as there is a nice gentle breeze and this may be the last beach time we have for a while so we abandon all plans for a cycle ride or a canoe trip to Owen Island as we feel we aren’t going to see anything new or special – other than Blossom Village, the coast line just had homes or resorts and they all look the same. This is an Island where the population in Hurricane season goes down to 150 people. The only problem (other than the ground hog day feeling) is the sand flies and other bugs – we have never been bitten so many times in all our travels!

It’s Valentine’s Day while we are here and we decide to eat at the Beach Bum Café with Raymond the resident chef doing the honours – it’s a lot cheaper than the other options where they all have set menus at circa CI$50 each = $US75 + Service charge.

The team have made an effort and the lights are on around the palm trees and the tables are laid with flowers etc. There are 3 couples in – 1 newly arrived and the other celebrating their 17th Wedding Anniversary. There’s a complimentary starter – tomato bruschetta (Caribbean style), then our order of red bean and salt beef soup to share, Mahi – Mahi grilled, and braised oxtail with rice and peas – all good. Then the Anniversary couple who had ordered a cake decided to share this with everyone as it was too big for them. Great cake with rum, raisins etc. All in all a good feast. with gentle music from Tarrah’s Laptop.

Grand Cayman - for the day

The next day after a light breakfast & paying the bill (which was cheaper than we expected – so a nice surprise there) Tarrah takes us to the air strip for our Flight out at 9.15 am to GC. As its change over day 2 planes arrive 2 mins apart and we leave at 9 am instead. After a smooth flight we are back in George Town Grand Cayman for the next 7 hours. The Cayman Food Festival is on with main guest star Anthony Bourdain but we decide to give it a miss as C has a few bits of sunburn and we need to stay in the shade.

Instead we head to Eldermires and take up Tootie’s offer of staying there rather than hang around George Town or Sunset House. We have 4 hours to kill before checking in again. It’s lovely of her and she gives us a room to chill in (needed the aircon). She’s a great lady with a lot of energy and stories of life and travel, and Eldermire’s is definitely a great option if you don’t want bland hotel land.

And so we head back to the airport for a final time. Next stop USA and the start of our road trip.

Additional photos below
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22nd February 2014

Oh no, they are the most evil insects ever! If there are sandflies around then we get bitten by them and end up in an itchy hell. Really looking forward to reading your US road trip blogs as this is something on our wish list!

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