Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hidden treasures of the Cayman Islands

Feel like hitting the beach?  Looking for rest, relaxation and sunshine?  Look a little further than the Atlantic Ocean.  Head South, to Grand Cayman Island, without breaking the bank!  Start looking at booking a vacation now for the Fall, Winter and Spring months, they're the best time to visit!!!!  You'll find everything you've been looking for, on Grand Cayman Island!!!

For our Cayman vacation, we chose The Marriott, on Seven Mile Beach and it bloomed with all "tings" Cayman.  The beautiful, white sandy beaches called to us upon arrival, so naturally, our first order of business was to rent snorkel gear and check out the fish!!!  The calm waters, soft, island breezes and serene atmosphere were just intoxicating!!!  After spending the afternoon in the water, we worked up quite an appetite!!!  Luckily, our hotel boasted three different restaurants, one bar with great bites on the deck, another further in under a large overhang that's great for a nice dinner "out", and an Italian bistro off the lobby.  We dined on coconut shrimp, lobster risotto and great burgers all within a few steps of our room:)   

Whether you're roaming your hotel, or are out on the town, you'll run into a few chickens:)  These little guys strut around day and night and they are everywhere!!!  On the hotel grounds alone we saw many chickens and roosters:)  Did I mention our hotel was also a haven for lounging in the sun while listening to the pitter patter of little lizards running under tables and chairs;)  They were too cute!!!  

A visit to Camana Bay is a must!  Just within walking distance from our hotel this little metropolis is home to Bay Market reminding me of a mini Whole Foods, put in an order for a freshly made sandwich, buy some cheese, fruit and drinks and make your way out to the water to sit at open tables.  Enjoy your lunch at a fraction of the cost of dining in a restaurant and you don't have to leave a tip!  The items you'll buy in this market are some of the freshest I've had, you won't be disappointed.  They also have a selection of freshly made pastas and salads:)  Camana Bay also has many home furnishings, clothing, accessories and book shops, a theater and lovely restaurants; you can easily spend an afternoon walking around this beautiful community!   

When you're all tuckered out, there's no place like home...or your hotel, to relax and unwind.  My perfect combination: Husband, glass of wine, a nice dinner and the Cayman sunset!!!

Steve and I decided to rent a Jeep for a day to drive out to the East End of the Island.  We were able to do this from the lobby of our hotel which was AWESOME!!!  We took an all day adventure, just the two of us and explored The Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park, Pedro St. James and had an up close experience at The Blowholes!!!  Let me show you more:)

Just keep in mind:  In Cayman you drive on the left, not the right:/  It's tough to keep this perspective, so drive carefully and don't forget to look both ways before you cross the street!!! ;)  I'm actually pretty surprised we didn't get pulled over on our outing:)

The Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park has it all!!!  Beautiful surroundings filled with huge, tropical plant life, exotic flowers, lilly ponds, palm trees and it's home to several large blue iguanas!!!!  Look out, they are everywhere, the moment you think you're alone, you'll hear one tromping through the brush, but don't worry, they will not attack you unless provoked!!!  They actually like posing for pictures, even up close, but they don't like you gawking at them for long.  So keep your distance, keep calm and if their heads start bobbing up and down, walk away nice and slow, they'll give you a little warning before they charge!!!!  Keep in mind that these aren't trained animals, this is their home, they will defend when necessary, so show your respect and treat them with kindness:)

The Blowholes are a little further east from the Botanic Park, you will have passed The Lighthouse on your way to the Botanic Park on Bodden Town road, that is a great restaurant, and pretty much the only place to stop for lunch, so take advantage and stop for a break after the park, before you head to the Blowholes. When you reach the Blowholes, don't expect a line to get in, an entrance or even a parking lot.  You'll see the hand written sign, you'll pull off the main road into gravel and you'll probably meet a very nice man who will be more than happy to talk to you for a while.  A very kind man will lead you down the rocky beach to the blowholes, tell you all about them, take your picture and not charge you a cent.  We still left him a large tip.  He mostly just wants to meet you, talk with you and tell you about the island he loves so dear and we were more than happy to listen and learn!

Visiting Pedro St. James was probably one of my favorite trips on the island!!!  Since you all know I'm a history buff, this was perfect:)  Pedro St. James is the oldest, surviving structure on the island, begun in 1780, it was also the largest, castle like in comparison to the small dwellings that peppered the landscape.  William Eden of England built the great house using slave labor from Jamaica, and farmed the land, turning it into a working plantation right on the ocean.  Over the many years it stood it saw damage from hurricanes, was struck by lightening and almost fully consumed by fire, but the structure survived and today you can visit the fully restored Pedro St. James as it would've looked in the 18th century, complete with furnishings and many, many stories!!!     

I loved this house!!!!  As I walked about the halls and rooms, and as I starred out into the ocean and felt the island breezes blow through my hair and caress my skin, I felt a sense of calm like no other.  In all my historical home tours I have never seen a house like this one before.  The entire frame of the house is a series of hallways that are open to the elements except for the shutters which can be opened or shut depending on the weather.  The actual rooms sit in the center of the house, one on top of the other in the white section you can see above.  The kitchen is on the rock level, Steve is standing in front of the kitchen doorway, behind the stairs.  Above is the family rooms and above that is the bedrooms.  The hall areas also act like rooms, complete with seating and tables.  I imagined what it must have been like, for all who lived there.  Taking their tea on the decks, in the late afternoons after a hard day of work.  Looking out onto the same ocean I am looking out at now. 

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I imagined crawling into bed, by oil lamp or candle, shutting the shutters and falling asleep to the gentle lapping of the ocean.  I imagined women cooking throughout the day to prepare a large meal in the late afternoon, service in the dining room, fine china being used, wine imported and drank sparingly.  I thought about the locks on the salt, sugar and coffee cellars, such hot commodities, we don't think about their influence over us to this day.  It's too easy to walk into a Starbucks and order whatever you like at a few bucks a pop!     

You'll also meet the only donkey on the island, Jack!  He's a sweet boy, make sure to give him a pet while you walk the grounds, he likes to hang out by the second kitchen.  There are also parrots on the property that like to hang out in the huge trees and you're bound to run into a few chickens and lizards as well.

When you make it back to the hotel, take a relaxing dip in the hot tub, or if you've been sweating under the hot Cayman sun all day, dive into the cool pool in a hot suit!!!!!  I almost never take selfies, but this suit from Anthropologie had to be documented:)

Cayman Turtle Farm sounded like another cute place to visit and we're glad we did, considering we saw giant turtles, plenty of lizards and got to hold baby turtles in the baby pools:)  Needless to say, I wanted my own turtle when we finally said good-bye.  It's a drive from the hotel, so you want to take a bus, these little white vans head up and down the main drag and they look just like cabs, you want to look for a 1 2 or 3 located on the front hood of the van which indicates its a bus, this also indicates the difference of paying just $2 pp, to get from whatever point A is to point B, versus $20 or more to get around.  Don't worry, all the locals use them, their friendly and clean and you'll save a bundle:)  Hotels will always ring for a cab, just walk down the drive to the main road, wait a few seconds and before you know it, one will swoop by and pick you up on the sidewalk, there aren't any real bus stops, just walk and put up your hand;)

Right across the street from the turtle farm is the dolphin adventure where you can watch, play and swim with dolphins, we didn't try this because it was WAY TOO EXPENSIVE and we just weren't jazzed about it, instead we walked a couple of feet over from the dolphins to a great ocean side, beach feel bar where we ate lunch and went snorkeling!!!!  Just a heads up, sea urchins are everywhere, so careful when you get into the water, my advice, using your goggles, look down into the water before you get in to see where the best pathway to ease under will be, I didn't want to kick any of these little guys in the face:)  

When you get back to the hotel, be sure and write home about your amazing trip!!!  I found the prettiest postcards at the bookshop in Camana Bay and got stamps from the local post office in Georgetown.  Grab a croissant, tea and a pen and get started, your loved ones will want to know how your trip is going and I'm sure you'll want to share;)  While writing my postcards one morning I got to talking with the cutest couple, from the US as well, Caryle and Stephan, and we found that we had much in common.  We had a great time, hung out with a parrot, and still keep in touch to this day:)

Later that afternoon, it was time for Sting Ray City!!!!  The ultimate Cayman experience, you all have to do this, because even though its a bit scary, its totally memorable!!!  You start out on a boat or catamaran, and make your way to a sand bar where loads of sting rays await and sting ray experts will guide you into the water to touch, hold and feed sting rays.  Keep in mind that these too are live, untrained animals so be cautious, they will slap you with their tails if you move to quickly or scream.  It's only a sting, so you'll survive:)  On this outing you will also visit a reef and go deep snorkeling.  Grab an underwater camera to document your underwater experience, if you forget, the boats photographer will be more than happy to take your pictures, for a fee;)    

Once you've made it back to dry land, you're gonna need a glass of wine to unwind from the sting ray mania and reflect on what you've just accomplished:)  Georgetown is the spot to go!  Boasting many restaurants, shops both high end and local and there's even an antique store, I couldn't help but purchase this sterling silver 1910 Birmingham made purse home with me as a souvenir, no snow globes on this trip!!!! Georgetown is the epicenter of commerce on the island, definitely worth checking out!!!  My only advice here, eat somewhere outside with a view and find something special to take home with you, it's your vacation!

If wine isn't your fancy, try a Rum tasting back at your hotel, these rums are the creme de la creme, so before you've had too many tastes, keep track of how much $$$ each taste is;)  If you've blown your dollars on Rum, check out these local spots for great eats at even better prices:)  Chicken!Chicken! is a Cayman staple, a local spot where everyone goes for the most succulent roast chicken around and their sides are even better, take out or eat in:)  Karma is a great place to go that has a hip, downtown feel in the breeze of the island.  Great Asian cuisine and even better desserts!!!!

Before you head home, do yourself a favor and reserve a massage.  No matter what, you deserve to be pampered and you've already spent this much, so whats a bit more for 30 min. to an hour of aromatherapy, massaged with eucalyptus oil that you can feel and smell throughout your entire bodies pores!!!  You will be sculpted from head to toe with no regrets, trust me, DO IT:)

And then, finally, try to say your good-byes, or even better, your see you laters, because you'll be back!!! Cayman has a way of sticking with you long after you've left, you'll be speaking a little Jamaican, you'll be adding a little jerk seasoning to your cooking and you'll be eating on your balcony or deck more often, swearing that you can feel dat island breeze.....Oh Cayman, I love you and hope to see you again SOON!

I hope you enjoy your next vacation as much as we did!

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