GRAND CAYMAN ISLAND
Forty-five minutes. That’s what Leon, our taxi driver, who could have easily played one of the roles in the “Three Blind Mice” opening of the James Bond movie, “Dr. No,” said when I asked him how long it would take to get from the airport to Morritt’s Resort at the East End of the Grand Cayman Island, which is where we were to spend the next two weeks of our lives. Just for laughs, I started my stopwatch the moment he engaged the gears of the right-sided drive cab, and hit the gas. Yes. The Grand Cayman Islands are part of the British West Indies. Thus, they drive on the left side of the road, and have accents that ring of Jamaica, England, and “Who-knows-where?”
After what seemed like an island version of “Toad’s Wild Ride,” we arrived at our resort. I checked my watch. Forty-five minutes and fifty-eight seconds. Leon may have sounded a bit “homey,” but he knew his times.
We checked into our two-bedroom, two-bath, piano, bass, and drums suite, complete with an ocean and pool view from the third floor, just in time for cocktails and dinner. We decided on the in-hotel restaurant for our initial repast. The lobster bisque,along with the lobster salads were in a class by themselves. The curry dishes were equally world class. As we were finishing our entrees, the head chef, Remy, appeared and introduced himself. When we complimented him on his culinary delights, he mentioned that he was from Goa, a beachfront community that we had visited a few years back. When we mentioned this, along with some reference points familiar to him, we became like long-lost family. It was now time to call it a day.
Monday we decided to go shopping to stock up our suite, which also had a full kitchen. As we picked out the essentials of home cooking, we discovered Costa Rican avocados. Each one was over a pound and a half, and juicy, with a flavor all their own. This discovery, along with Jamaican Red Stripe Beer, made for a well-stocked kitchen. Along the way, we met an island eccentric named Archie. He offered us a freshly picked coconut. Upon us showing interest in his prize, he proceeded to cut the husk from it with a machete that was apparently razor sharp. After husking the coconut, he put down the machete, and produced an equally sharp knife, with which he popped the top of the now exposed inner membrane of the coconut. He offered the membrane to Naomi and me. It tasted more “coconutty” than any other coconut I’d ever had. He then produced a straw so that Naomi and I could savor the “coconut water” without messing up our shirts. It was amazingly light, but sweet. That was when we learned that coconut milk is squeezed from the meat of the coconut. And coconut water is what is floating around on the inside of the coconut.
After all of this shopping, and coconutting, it was time to hit the beach. There is a natural reef surrounding the beach at the East End of the island. Thus the snorkeling is ne plus ultra. Just imagine crystal clear water, a very mild current, and an almost unlimited amount of denizens of the not-so-deep engaged in an incredibly graceful aquatic ballet worthy of Jerome Robbins. My wife, Naomi, never to be unprepared, brought along a zip-lock bag of toasted breadcrumbs. As she unleashed handfuls of the toast, a most phenomenal food frenzy ensued. As we were trying to photograph and video the local fish, we were bombarded by them. I’ve never been pushed around by fish like this in my life. I later told Naomi that instead of extra toast, she should have signed autographs.
Tuesday began with a light breakfast, followed by snorkeling and another gangbang of Naomi’s toast. However, our idyll was interrupted by Naomi’s hair getting knotted-up by her snorkel mask. This called for immediate action. Thank goodness, Alicia, a lady at the front desk drove us to a friend of hers who is a hairdresser. I’d like to say that she had Naomi’s hair untangled in a matter of moments, but that was not the case. It took over an hour to ken, and then fix the problem, which was a monumental task, given the length of Naomi’s hair. Upon finishing the untangling, Carla, the hair-stylist called for Alicia to bring us back to our hotel. How’s that for friendly?
Wednesday and Thursday brought some “white-caps” to our bay. So we decided to do a bit of culinary carousing. We wound up at Vivine’s, a local favorite restaurant, that serves local “native” foods, such as Conch, pronounced conk, which is quite similar to clam, pronounced clam, curry goat, and oxtail stew. The view from the outside deck of Vivine’s, combined with the foods they served more than lived up to their reputation. It isn’t fancy. It is just down-home delicious fare. We saw a jar of marinated habañero peppers. We figured that the marinade would “cool” them off somewhat, like marinated jalapeños. So I cut a small chunk of one off, and popped it into my mouth. Our marinade theory was as wrong as wrong could be. My mouth was on fire for at least ten minutes. Along with the oxtail stew, and curry goat, we were served vegetables that included breadfruit. For those of you who have never sampled breadfruit, try to imagine a starchy vegetable with the consistency of a potato, but with all of the flavor sucked out. Why it’s so popular in the Caribbean is as much a mystery to me as the popularity of poi in Hawaii. Never let it be said that we balked at new things.
Friday we went to the “East End Festival,” which included local foods, music, and a wide range of local goodies for sale. I guess it’s time to explain “East End.” The Grand Cayman is shaped like a whale. The tail is the West End. The West End is Georgetown, where the cruise ships dock, and the hucksters, kitch shops, and restaurants abound, all vying for the cruise ship passengers’ money. The East End is the nose and mouth of the whale, a bit remote, quiet, and hipper for natural pursuits. The good news is that the East End is remote. Thus there is not very much traffic, no taxis, and no high-end goody stores. The bad news is that the East End is remote. Thus there is not very much traffic, no taxis, and no high-end goody stores. For us, it was a hip trade-off. We wanted quiet, snorkeling, local color, etcetera. The diminutive hamlet of Hell is near the tip of the tail, north of Georgetown. More on that later.
Saturday was another water-filled day. The evening was an all-you-can-eat lobster fest at our resort. Yes. We did indulge. Sunday and Monday were windy days. We didn’t chance fate with our snorkels. However, Tuesday was perfect for our water wanderings.
Wednesday we took an Island Trip, hosted by Leon’s partner, José. We boarded the “S.S. Neversail,” his van, at 0930 for our “view of his homeland.” The first sight we saw was the “Wreck of the 10 sails,” which is just what it was. Ten ships were wrecked in this area in the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. It’s not, apparently, what one would call “ship friendly.” From here, we sallied forth to a number of very unremarkable sites. I guess they were on his “to do” list. Suddenly we were in Georgetown, the home to every huckster on the island. Yes. We bought some of the Caribbean shirts. We “needed them.” We also got to see the Dolphins at play. It was quite similar to Sea World. Due to an attack of hunger within our ranks, we stopped at “Myrtles,” which is world famous on this island. To be honest, they prepare some of the finest island morsels, including turtle steak, turtle stew, and sundry other goodies that are an integral part of the local diet. I was surprised by the amount of bones in the turtle stew. I know it’s not fashionable to eat turtle in our environs, but, “When in Rome….” After gorging ourselves on lunch, including breadfruit, we were off to the Tortuga Rum Factory. They let us sample flavored rums, including coconut, mango, pineapple, and coffee. They also had Tortuga Cake in multi-flavors that was to die for, especially if you’re diabetic. From this temple of Bacchus, we went to Hell. Yes. Hell. It is so named because of the offensive landscape it possesses. It is one of the few places that lives down to its description. From there, we hit Seven-Mile Beach. I must say, the beach at our resort was a lot hipper, and less congested, unless, of course, if Naomi started slinging toast around while we were snorkeling. The final destination was Rum Point, a wonderfully remote beach. Getting there, we passed through an incredibly upscale neighborhood. However, the nagging question was, “Where do these people of megabucks shop for daily items?” Nonetheless, it was a gas to see these island retreats of the rich and shameless. Ending this island sojourn, we got back to our resort in time for cocktails, a shower, and dinner.
The remainder of our stay was taken up with snorkeling, hitting one of the three pools, Jacuzzi, and Mimi’s for Conch Fritters.
It was now time to check out and catch our plane. We, of course, engaged Leon to get us to the airport. When I asked him how long it would take to get to port of embarcation, he replied 48 minutes. Once again I set my stopwatch. We arrived in 47 minutes and 20 seconds. Yo Leon!