On all of our past trips to Grand Cayman, we stayed in hotels located right along Seven Mile Beach. There wasn't much incentive to go very far. We were on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Carribean. For dive trips, the boats would pick us up right from the beach. And there were plenty of choices for places to eat within walking distance - lots of restaurants in the hotels or along the street that's just behind the beach. Other than maybe a shopping trip into Georgetown (I'm always looking to add to my tshirt collection), that was where we stayed the whole time.
This trip was different. We were staying at the Shangri-La, a Bed and Breakfast in West Bay, instead of a hotel on Seven Mile Beach. The prices for places along the beach had gotten ridiculously high - at least too high for us. We weren't planing to do any diving either. And this time we had a car, something we hadn't needed on our previous trips. So this seemed like a good chance to explore the rest of the island.
Our first trip was to Rum Point. As mentioned in my last post, we had gone there once on a previous trip to listen to the Barefoot Man. It is just across the water from where we were staying but a long drive around North Sound by car.
North Sound is a large shallow bay, famous as the location of Stingray City. Years ago fisherman would clean their fish in the bay when returning to West Bay and the stingrays learned to hang out there to get a free lunch. Fish guts - yum! Soon boats started to bring tourists and today they are the ones who feed the stingrays and keep them coming back. The water is quite shallow in places. You can do snorkel trips that take you to spots where you can stand up in the water, even though you are a mile or two from shore. Even the deepest parts of the bay, where the Stingray City dive trips go, are only about fifteen, maybe twenty feet deep. On previous trips we had done both snorkel and dive trips, so we had "been there, done that".
Although Rum Point is only about five miles from West Bay "as the crow flies" (or in this case it might be more appropriate to say "as the stingray swims"), it was a long drive around the bay and through town. It took us over an hour to get there.
There are no high rise hotels at Rum Point. In fact, there aren't any hotels, just a few vacation housing developments. There is a public area which has a dock where Stingray City excursions depart, a small beach with a nice picnic area, and a beach bar and food stand. Rum Point is lightly wooded rather than open beach, and the trees provide welcome relief from the tropical sun. We spent most of the day just sitting in the shade, reading our books, admiring the view of the water and enjoying the warm weather in January. After a tasty lunch of fish and chips, we headed back and got home in time to take a sunset walk on Seven Mile Beach.
Another day we set out to drive all the way around the island. We retraced most of our route around North Sound, but when we reached the north coast instead of turning west to go to Rum Point, we turned to the east to follow the road that headed for the far end of the island. There isn't much on the eastern two thirds of Grand Cayman. There is no north-south road, just the single road that circles around the island near the coast. There wasn't much traffic. That's because there wasn't much there. Other than the odd isolated vacation house, this end of the island was mostly deserted.
There were a lot of places where we could access the shoreline and we stopped at several of them. Some spots were rocky while others had sandy beaches. Either way, we had them pretty much to ourselves. There was only one spot that we stopped where there were other people. The beaches were unmaintained, with lots of seaweed and vegetation washed up. The coast did not have the spotlessly manicured look of Seven Mile Beach, where armies of hotel employees go out every morning to make sure the beach is perfectly clean. That was ok. It was natural and made the beaches seem more remote and wilder.
At one of the beaches we found some really large, intact conch shells. We picked out the two nicest ones and brought them home with us. We weren't sure whether or not there were laws about taking large shells off the island, but either it was ok or no one checked our luggage and we are major international criminals. After we got the shells home Sandy cleaned them up we could set them out with some of the other travel souvenirs we have on display in our house.
Althought the natural debris on the beaches of the East End is...well...natural, what isn't so cool is the trash. Everyplace that we stopped there was garbage: in the parking areas, on the fringes of the beach, anywhere that people would hang out when they visited. There was paper trash. Beer cans, of course. I even found used syringes at one spot. Not exactly the kind of place that I would want to hang out to watch the ocean late on a Saturday night. It is really sad that the locals don't take better care of the beauty that they have on the island.
After a couple of beach stops to take pictures and collect conch shells, we continued on. When we got close to the east end of the island, there were a couple of resorts (exactly two) and even a small shopping area with a mini mart and a dive shop. One of the hotels was the Reef Resort where we stopped to make our reservations to see the Barefoot Man. A little further along was a restaurant and across the street from that was a gift shop, which we stopped to check out. Since it was so remote we thought it might have some unique stuff.
And it did have some nice things. I found a pendant and earring set (that was your birthday present, Shannon) while Sandy picked out a carved wooden turtle. Of course, part of buying souvenirs is negotiating so I offered a little less than the total of the marked prices for both. There were several mumbles from the store owner (or maybe they were grumbles) which we interpreted as meaning that he agreed to the price that I had offered. It really wasn't that I was trying to save a couple of dollars at his expense. It was that I had offered him all the Cayman money that I had with me. Since we were about a two hour drive from the closest ATM it was a good thing that he agreed to my offer so we could get both of the things that we wanted. Plus at least he got a sale. Way out here, his shop wasn't packed with customers after all.
When we finally reached the east end of the island there was a small town there with the imaginative name of...East End. There wasn't much to it. Nothing touristy. Just a small town way out in the country.
After the town of East end we were heading back along the south shore of the island. We stopped at a pullout with a sign for a blowhole, a spot where the surf surges through a hole in the rock and spouts high up into the air. Except that today the surf wasn't very active and the blowhole wasn't blowing. But there was a local guy there, William, who still wanted to give us a free tour. We quickly figured out that he could talk forever even when he didn't have anything to talk about, so we politely passed on the tour. It was still tough for us to disengage without being totally rude but we eventually mangaed it. We jumped in the car, locked the doors, and sped away. As I looked in the rear view mirror I saw him walking towards another car that had just stopped at the pullout.
Our final stop was on the south side of the island at the Lighthouse restaurant, a really good Italian place right on the water. The view was fantastic. The food was good. The drinks were cold. Life was good. We declared our day trip around the island a success.
After we left the Lighthouse we passed another restaurant on the way back, the Southcoast Bar & Grill in Bodden Town. What caught my eye there was a sign that advertized karioke with Cayman Elvis. Wow. That triggered a memory from way back in 2003, on our family trip to Grand Cayman to celebrate Tim's high school graduation.
On that trip, one evening we were taking a taxi to have dinner in Georgetown. Since there were five of us, Sandy and I and Mickey and Shannon all squeezed into the back of the cab. Tim hopped in front with the driver. Except that when he did, Tim did a double take. The taxi driver was an Elvis impersonator, complete with clothes, sunglasses and hairdo. The entire inside of the cab was decorated with Elvis memorabilia. It was quite the Elvis shrine. Tim was like "Whoa. Do I want to get in a car with this guy?" But he was harmless. We had just discovered "Cayman Elvis", a cab driver and Elvis impersonator named Errol Dunbar who is still famous on the island to this day, as shown by the roadside sign that I had seen. It was quite the flashback to our previous trip.
After our around the island tour, our only other significant excursion was to somewhere quite close to where we were staying in West Bay. On all of our trips to Grand Cayman, we heard about tours and trips to visit Hell, a small town in the northwest corner of Grand Cayman. This time we finally went there.
The name hell comes from an unusual geologic formation, an area of sharp, black limestone projections about the size of a football field. Yes, it would be hell to try to go through them, but you only have to walk about a hundred yards to get around them. Still, the local tourist bureau makes the most of the name. There is a post office in Hell. We did the tourist thing and bought post cards and mailed them there, so that they would be postmarked in Hell. There are several souvenir shops which sell post cards (to mail from the Hell post office) as well as tshirts and other souvenirs from Hell. There is also a bar, the Inferno Lounge, painted with bright flames. And interestingly enough, there is the First Church of Hell. The building was painted with flames and had lots of slogans written on the walls about escaping hell fire. Kind of weird if you ask me. And there is a short wooden boardwalk that you can take to get a view of the rock formation that gave Hell its name. Surprisingly, it's free.
It wasn less than a ten minute drive from where we were staying. Amazingly enough, many people who come off of cruise ships in Georgetown pay for bus tours that bring them to Hell. If I paid good money just to be brought to a tiny post office surrounded by three tshirt shops, I would be mighty upset. Maybe that's why I have never gone on a Carribean cruise.
And that was about it for our Grand Cayman trip. It had been a great way to start Sandy's retirement. We had a relaxing week and enjoyed our return to an island that we had visited many times in the past.