By Naoma Foreman

From February 27, 1998 to March 6, 1998 my family and I spent a week on Grand Cayman. My husband, Roger, is an advanced SCUBA diver and our daughter, April, is a certified SCUBA divemaster and rescue diver.

Roger and I rented a car and checked into our condo, which was at Indies Suites, and later in the day we drove to the airport to pick up April who had come in from Los Angeles. The road from the airport into the town is lined on both sides with a garbage dump. My thought was to plant trees or plants or even build a wall to disguise this unpleasant area which greets you upon arrival.

We decided to have our first meal together at a highly recommended restaurant called the Wharf where the highlight was the feeding of the tarpons at the edge of the restaurant's terrace, where we had a reservation for a "front row seat."

The food was just average and my husband misread the menu prices and conversion to Caymanian dollars so we thought our meal was half of what it turned out to be. Every place adds on a 15% gratuity. We each had fish and rice and my husband had a glass of wine. The tarpon feeding was nothing special. People who did not have "front row seats" rushed to the front of the terrace and so our view was blocked and we had to stand on chairs. The bill for fish and rice was $160!

Roger and April went diving every day and were gone from early morning until after lunch. They have both been to some spectacular dive areas of the world (Maldives, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Palau and Truk) and it takes a lot to impress them under the water. They both use the videocam to photograph what they see, but were disappointed in the marine life and reef.

One day we took a trip to the Botanical Gardens. This is an interesting area full of labeled plants and trees and a large "Blue Iguana" who is part of a breeding program because the species is found only on Cayman and is very endangered.

We visited the Hyatt Hotel because it had been featured in the movie "The Firm". It was not on the beach, but across the street was a restaurant, which was owned by the hotel, and it had a beach area.

We visited the famous "turtle farm" and after looking through the window at the breeding tanks decided that it was overrated. We also went to see "Hell" which was a very small black volcanic rock area and the only thing on the island which was "free."

The one highlight of our trip was the trip to Stingray City. This was my reason for going to Cayman, although I'd been to the island as a stopover three times on various trips throughout the Caribbean, but really had not seen anything except the airport.

Stingray City is the only place like it in the world, so they say. I have recently read of a similar place near Moorea in Tahiti, but it was unclear if it was strictly for SCUBA divers or snorkelers. I am not a diver so Stingray City was perfect for me. Our first stop on the trip was to an area called Aquarium where it appeared to be just like looking into an aquarium with your snorkel mask on. The fish were small in colors of blue and lavender. I was quite excited about this because it was in fairly deep water and crystal clear. Our next stop on the adventure was to see the rays. Our boat did not anchor in the 3-feet deep water, but in water that was almost over my head, so my daughter guided me out to an area which was neck deep.

The marvelous rays came right up to us to eat the squid (which the boat captain had cut up) out of our hands. They sucked the fish off your hand into their mouth, which is located on their underside. The rays slithered all over our bodies. They feel like velvet on their underbelly and the top of them feels like leather. I have pictures taken by Roger and his videocam, which shows one stingray climbing up my back and looking like a cape across my shoulders. It was one of the very best experiences I've ever had in the water. When it was time to go back to the boat I realized I'd gone way past my limit to swim back, but I was lucky my personal "rescue diver" helped me get back to the boat.

We discovered a really great place to eat called Chicken, Chicken, which has a branch outside of San Francisco and the one on Cayman. Their chicken is fire roasted with "special spices" and they have a lot of great side dishes. The three of us could eat there for between $30 and $40 for a meal that was delicious and filling. Upon our return home, Roger recreated the chicken with such spices as rosemary and thyme and sage with some spicy sauce.

We shopped for gold and I got a golden stingray to wear around my neck. Roger also bought me a stuffed stingray, which he surprised me with on the airplane because he knew I had such a special experience with them. The prices of gold at "1/2 off" were nowhere near what you can find in the USA if you shop around. (Years ago, I used to visit St. Thomas for gold bargains and perfume and liquor, but this island is not a bargain for shopping, which I noted after my last visit).

Our daughter left a day earlier than us so we drove all around the island to a place called Morritt's Tortuga, which was where we originally planned to stay. This condo is so remote and the restaurant there is very basic "deli" that had we stayed there it would have meant that in order to find a good meal we'd have to travel 60 miles every day to go into the town where everything is located.

Although we read that Cayman has 500 banks, they are certainly well hidden. However, I saw more churches per mile than anywhere else I've ever been. I cannot imagine these churches can support congregations on such a small island. They were churches of denominations which I had never heard before.

I saw very few natives except at the supermarket in town. On other Caribbean Islands, the native population is the majority and the tourists are a minority. There are no taxes for the people who live there. I did not see very many schools. There were a lot of beautiful homes on the waterfront and yachts of all sizes.

The driving is British style, which for me is awkward, but for Roger, who is British, very comfortable.

We visited just about every place in the guidebook, including a bar, which was voted one of the "best in the world" and could not figure out WHY.

My impressions of Cayman are that it is not a place to which I shall ever return because it was just too expensive for what you get. It has some attractive beaches, but nowhere near the beauty of some other places in the world. Upon checking out of our condo we were given a memo which suggested a 20% of the price of our condo as a tip to the maids. The memo said all other places add on the 20% automatically. We ate at other restaurants where the food was not very good and quite expensive for what it was. A young couple we met told us they spent $200 one evening for two steak dinners.

The stingrays will remain a wonderful memory but as a place to vacation I cannot rate Cayman at all favorably.

If you wish to go I could elaborate on anything on which you have questions. Travel is my hobby and first love and I make at least two trips a month.

Naoma can be reached at naoma@cheerful.com 

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