Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Grand Cayman

Our last port of call today, Grand Cayman. We anchor just off Georgetown, alongside 3 other cruise liners. We have to assemble on the quay at 9.45, so we have time for a leisurely breakfast before taking the tender across.

There are excursions for all the other ships, too so it's pretty chaotic and it takes us a while to find the meeting point for our turtle and stingray adventure. We have to hang around for a while and it seems more disorganised than we have been used to.

Finally we are led to a small bus and set off along the only road that runs the full length of the island. Our route takes us along seven mile beach and past swanky hotels and luxury condos. The first stop is the turtle farm where we see turtles of all sizes, and are allowed to hold some of the smaller ones, including some very cute six month old youngsters. Alex is thrilled by the tiny ones.

We stop briefly at a rum cake shop and then continue on to Hell. The settlement was established on the site of a dramatic black rock formation and has a post office where you can send postcards postmarked from Hell.

From here we are taken to meet the boat that will take us out to Stingray City, a sandbar where stingrays gather in large numbers and tolerate visits from humans. We have a longish wait while they fill the boat with people from 3 or 4 buses and there isn't enough shade for everybody. Simon is a bit pink so he stays below but Alex and I grab a spot up front which turns out to be a great choice when we finally set off, as we are cooled by the spray. We can see the group of boats at the sandbar from some way off, and the water is clear and shallow, turned brilliant turquise by the sand beneath.

When we arrive the skipper drops anchor and the guide gives us a quick briefing about how to avoid damage to either the rays or ourselves, then leads us down the steps off the back of the boat. It's very shallow, even Alex can stand comfortably, and it's immediately apparent that the rays are intentionally swimming so closely past us that they brush our legs with their wings. We really have no option but to touch them, or rather be touched by them - in both senses. Although they pack a nasty sting I don't feel threatened at all and feel sure I have a silly grin on my face as I enjoy the sensation of these majestic wild creatures playfully tickling my legs.

We hand feed them pieces of squid and a docile female seems content to be handled by a succession of people and even curls up her lip to be kissed. There's plenty of time to watch the rays, and some other fish, too. During the journey back to shore we have the chance to buy photos of our experience at a very reasonable $30, which includes all the photos of us with the rays plus some great wildlife and scenic shots from the island, all on a CD with no copyright restrictions. Back at the jetty there's no sign of our driver and we're running late. The other bus drivers have to rescue us and we get back to the quay with only about half an hour to spare.

There's little time for shopping but I leave the boys at the bar and walk along the main street which is lined with jewellery shops, just to get the feel of the place. This is a popular stop for Americans who have the opportunity to buy familiar brands duty free, but by this time the shops are deserted as the serious shoppers went ashore first thing and have long since returned to their ships.

Back on board I join in a dance class on the pool deck, which is fun but hot work. Alex has agreed to eat with us tonight which will make a nice change but he goes to kids club until then.. We will lose an hour tonight but it's a sea day tomorrow so we can sleep in.

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