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The Cayman Islands:  Where Right is Wrong
by

Professor Arnie Greenberg

In Grand Cayman they’re clearing away the debris. In some places you wouldn’t know there was a hurricane there last September. But there are certain places that no longer exist like The Crow’s Nest, my one-time favorite restaurant or the spectacular blow holes near east end that may return some day. A video of the storm showed how close the island came to total destruction. But they are a tenacious people and they have risen from the sea to welcome you.

One can imagine the destructive force of  hurricane Ivan. With such powerful winds and rising waters, people lost their homes, their belongings, their cars and businesses. What is amazing, however, is how quickly things are coming back to order.

True, they lost thousands of trees and their roads were covered in ankle deep or even knee deep of sand but the main city of Georgetown is back operating as usual. In other parts of the island, businesses are rebuilding and reopening. There are as many as six large cruise ships in port every day and the restaurants, bars, hotels and shops are thriving. That means thousands of visitors in a very small place from early morning to late afternoon. They shop, take tours, dive, visit the turtle farm, swim among the stingrays and take the sun on Seven Mile Beach, one of the most perfect beaches in the world. With almost white, cool sand and gentle waters slowed by a reef, it is probably the best beach in the western world. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. Its only three and a half hours from New York.                                                                                  

The insurance companies are making settlements and the future looks bright. As a matter of fact, the present looks brighter already as most of the debris has been cleared  and only if you were there before the hurricane Ivan would you notice what’s missing. Just like it was in Florida this fall, there blue sheets of plastic covering some roofs, still under repair. But even that is disappearing daily. Many of the hotels are operating, and the large Hotel Ritz, while behind schedule, is rising majestically. Give them time. All will be healed.

It took months for the electricity and communications to get back to normal. For the most part, the roads are in good order now but that took work. Visitors can still enjoy Seven Mile Beach. Even with the loss of some of the Australian Pines, the beach is a magnet for joggers, seashell hunters, swimmers, snorkelers and divers. The dive operations are again in full swing as are the tours to feed the stingrays in North Sound. The glass bottom boats are drawing crowds as are the tour submarines or old Caravels rides.

People are renting cars, visiting the turtle Farm, traveling to Hell or looking for bargains at the duty free shops near the harbor.

On cruise ship days the town of Georgetown is teeming with visitors who invade the city and fill the restaurants to brimming. It is still a sunlit drawing card for many and Paradise for some. Add the thousands of daily visitors to the 40,000 residents and you have quite a hustle bustle. But the population has about 20% of the inhabitants under the age of 15. It is a young island with a youthful spirit.                                                                              

The temperature rarely falls below 70 degrees. The average monthly rainfall is less than  5 inches. The coolest time is November to April. Hurricane season is from June to November when the island is the hottest.

I was lucky enough to stay next to the boat canal where I lazed for hours in a hammock, watching the noiseless boats drift into North Sound. At the Hyatt Britannia  I watched golfers play on the links course designed by Jack Nicklaus despite the fact that the clubhouse is no longer in use, the watering system was still down and only the greens were hand watered.

 At Rum Point there was music and laughter as well as excitement for the Sunday  t boat race starting at the famous Kaibo Restaurant. Everyone was in a holiday mood, drinking Rum Punch and dancing to the sounds of new wave music.

Cayman will get through these days of rebuilding. It will survive the elements and grow as it has.                                                                                      

I went there twenty-five years ago when people lived in sprawling homes on Seven Mile Beach. The two hotels on the beach and these one family homes are gone and replaced by modern high rise condos costing over three million dollars per unit. The Ritz and their new golf course will replace the old holiday Inn and the changes will only draw more and more visitors in time. But don’t let me scare you. There are houses for sale that are much less expensive.

Cayman is expensive for many as the Cayman dollar is worth 20% more than the US dollar but still, condo’s are bought and sold, new projects are started and the banks doing offshore business are thriving.

The Island’s history goes back to the days of Columbus and Sir Francis Drake. Then, the waters were filled with sea turtles and crocodiles. The name then was Los Tortugas and layer changed to the Carib Indian name Caymanos. Today, this British protectorate is run by an island council and a Governor who maintains a residence on Seven Mile Beach.

Not too many products sold here are local. Years ago, the islanders made hemp ropes for the shipping industry. Today you can find a number of talented island painters and a small art museum. The island employs a great number of Jamaican and British workers but one must get a permit to work there.                                                                                                          

The restaurants thrive here. I’ve eaten at Kaibo at Rum Point, Hemingway’s on Seven Mile Beach and The Grand Old House in South Sound. This stately old waterfront, plantation type building, dates from 1908 and offers some of the island’s most lavish dishes. The conch fritters and turtle steaks were excellent. This island is famous for its sea turtles, some weighing well over 150 lbs. I was surprised at the taste. I ordered Turtle steak and thought I was eating breaded veal. It is the same consistence and the taste was on the bland side especially in a place where many things are served with heavy spices. The conch fritters were simply local conch snails fried in a batter and served with a peppery tomato sauce. Consumed with Red Strip beer, from nearby Jamaica, it made for an interesting meal. There are many good restaurants to choose from especially if you like any of about 20 different local fish offerings or lobster.

The Grand Old House spills onto a covered dining platform near the crystal, turquoise sea. As you dine, you can hear the sound of the sea brushing the shore.

During WW II the buildings became a shelter for school children and hospital for wounded soldiers.

Many famous people have enjoyed this well preserved restaurant. They include Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Ann and President & Nancy Reagans. It is a treasure that has been carefully preserved and quite unique.

The Grand Old House is a class act on South Church Street near South Sound and reservations are recommended at 949 9333.                                                             

You can go to West Bay and dine at  the Hawaiian styled Pappagallos set near the sea in a bird sanctuary. I often stop at The Lobster Pot (www.lobsterpot@candw.ky)   on the sea in Georgetown or The Warf at the start of Seven Mile beach. Tel: 949 2231. I also recommend Hemingway’s for a meal next to the sea and The Bamboo Restaurant for a casual meal with Jazz every Saturday night. They are both at The Hyatt.

For native dishes try The Cracked Conch in West Bay, next to the Turtle Farm. Fish is their specialty but you might like the Jerk beef, chicken, fish or pork. It’s so West Indian. I even saw a sign that said “jerk city”. I stayed away.

Lounge on the beach, go parasailing, feed the stingrays or go to the edge of the reef in a glass enclosed submarine. You will see a great number of colorful fish and perhaps an old wreck. When you get to the airport duty free shops, remember to stock up on Rum Cakes and spirits. The prices will amaze you.

For those who want more adventure of deep sea fishing, you can arrange to travel by sea or air to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. They too are ready to receive you.

There are short flights daily.

Yes, the future looks bright for Grand Cayman and her tiny sister islands. There are great sunsets, hotels, condos and happy islanders in this sun baked area. They are rebuilding and changes are evident daily. It may look slightly different but it still has that ‘paradise quality’. They’ve come a long way since September’s hurricane but they still have a long way to go. But don’t let that stop you. You’ll still be able to fulfill all your dreams.

One trip may not be enough. I highly recommend this for explorers of all ages. The numbers of visitors rises yearly. Now, over a million people visit this world class tourist haven every year. It is the world’s fifth largest offshore financial center with about 600 banks and to top financial institutions. Money draws visitors as does the courteous hospitality, seafaring devotion and religious devotion of its natives.

Only a little over an hour from Miami, it has a small town atmosphere with a superior communications system, two hospitals, the latest technology and a superior educational system. It is sophisticated and cosmopolitan with world class water sports facilities. Where else can you visit Hell and tickle a turtle? Where else can you dive into a four mile deep trench? Where else can you sip Rum punch and nibble on Rum cake as you watch the sun set? It’s a special island treat, available at most stores. This is one island where you don’t have to worry about missing your favorite foods. The shops are stocked with all the things you are used to at home, and more.

On Cayman, “right is wrong” as you drive British style on the left hand side. You’ll get used to it. You may require am International driver’s permit but it’s inexpensive and readily available at the police station. Come on down. You won’t want to go home. I never do. It’s my own little corner of Paradise. True, there have been changes over the years but something magic comes over you as you deplane at Owen Roberts Field.

Modern hotels are ready to greet you on Seven Mile Beach and soon, the rich and famous will, no doubt discover the newly constructed, upscale Ritz.  Since Sept the island has been preoccupied with a repair and rebuilding program.  Things are returning to normal. There is no doubt that their tenacity will prevail. I plan to go there again next fall, hopefully during Pirate Week when the islands look like New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

Caution. The Cayman dollar is 20% above the US dollar but look what you get for your money. If you are there to invest or start an offshore company, you’ve come to the right place. At least your purchases are tax free.

Hurricane Ivan in history. Cayman is still alive and well. Come on down. Take the sun. Enjoy the sea and don’t forget to drive on the left side and ‘tickle a turtle”. 

PS: I have been to Grand Cayman scores of times over the past twenty five years. True, it has grown and changed. But it is still a paradise with sandy beaches under a sunny sky. The rebuilding is going to make Cayman an even better place to visit with new wonders to replace the old.

#   #   #

You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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