A few thoughts upon returning from the Cayman Islands
You have been on my mind all day; it was difficult to work because of today's atrocities. I believe Mr Blair used the "B" word- barbaric.
Anyway, back to the Caymans:
It was my first 4th of July abroad. It really makes one think. You take all the schtick for granted when you're at home on that date.
The family all had a wonderful time, even the teenager who seems to be striving for a Certified Professional Sullenist designation.
Grand Cayman definitely made our list of "places to go back to soon".
As furrin' guests, we were extra careful to be on our best behavior and serve as counterexamples to all those crass stereotypes of Americans abroad.
And, as one would expect, the Caymanians repaid our efforts many times over by being unfailingly cheerful, helpful, pleasant, polite and excellent conversationalists.
Wonderful folks all.
But We Really Don't Understand People Who Take Island-Hopping Cruises.
We watched, with something between bewilderment and bemusement as launches disgorged groups of people who either were to be carted around in buses (apologies to M. Python but it fits) for half-day tours or into shops selling either turista junk or very overpriced designer jewelry. Then the same folks would be rushed back onto the launches so as to not miss the evening buffet
Don't get me wrong- there's plenty of top quality merchandise to be found, but you're not going to find it if you've only got a half-hour to do so, unless you get lucky.
How can one possibly expect to learn anything about a country by flitting in and out like that?
My wife and I are the sort of folks who'd rather go the subway/bus pass/Lonely Planet/compass route than be led by the hand all over the place.
It makes for unforgettable experiences.
Case in point: In Hong Kong, the MTR (underground train) stations tend to have multiple exits that can hit the surface as much as five or six blocks from where the station is marked on the map. And if you don't have a compass it can be quite disorienting. A few years ago, we got utterly lost while trying to find the Bird Market Park.
A man (who we now refer to as Green Jacket Man) whose English was as awful as my audio CD Cantonese, asked if we were lost (since we were looking back and forth between the guidebook and street signs it was fairly obvious to all).
He looked at the guidebook, and then walked with us for at least ten blocks, consulting more than once with the police since streets were being closed in preparation for a parade, just to make sure we got to the right place.
During this walk, we figured out that he wanted to know what part of the States we came from.
We tried the Wright Brothers, and several other southeastern references and he didn't understand any of them. This went on and on, and began to get frustrating until we spoke the magic words: Michael Jordan.
His eyes lit up, he smiled and nodded, and we knew that information had been successfully transferred. After getting us to the park, he insisted on taking our picture, and absolutely declined payment for his time.
You don't get experiences like that in a tour group. I won't mention the hole-in-the -wall food shop that had ox penis on the menu. But back to the Caymans-
We always research a place first and we had read that in the Caymans it was considered bad form to wear swimwear except at the beach or at the pool; we also noticed that the prevailing style of dress on Grand Cayman was somewhat modest; micro-bikinis or too-revealing [spousal opinion!] halter tops and short-shorts were almost never seen.
Until the cruise ship folks came in. No wonder so many think that we are uncultured buffoons with too much money and too little taste.
Speaking of buffoons, I managed to drive on the left side of the road all week and didn't even remotely frighten anyone except for some members of my immediate family who shall remain nameless. I saw not one flip-off the entire time I was on the island.
Speaking of birds, splurge for dinner at Pappagallo; it borders a bird sanctuary and they've got quite a number of resident parrots.
They give the rental cars different colored license plates so that the locals know to stay the hell away from the crazy Yanks and also have a little extra patience with us- more than one person stopped and flashed their lights to indicate that I could make a right turn across their lane.
What really plays games with the mind are the roundabouts (or rotaries, as they call them in Boston), where you're not only driving on the wrong side of the road, but going the opposite direction (clockwise) than you'd do in the States.
It was also an experience dodging large black and red crabs trying to cross the road at night to get to the beach at South Sound; The first one I saw gave me quite a start.
This is serious, as a number of Americans are killed each year when their midbrains [or their margaritas] take command and they proceed to drive on the right side of the road in a country where one drives on the left.
As for the island, things are coming along, and lots and lots of places are fully functional, but they're still hurting from Hurricane Ivan.
Rebuilding is more drawn out when you're in a tropical environment and you have to bring all your raw materials in by ship or by airplane.
There are loose [collared, not stray] dogs and roosters running about- the story is that if you still don't have housing, you don't have any place to take your pet back to. Everyone seems to be making an effort to feed the dogs and give them some attention to keep them from going feral- as far as we saw, it seems to be working.
The Humane Society is under a tremendous strain, as one might expect. We looked them up in the phone book and stopped by to give them a donation.
Swimming with the rays was unforgettable, and the best value for money paid of the entire trip. I won't say who we used, but he's got a trimaran.
I sincerely hope that Hurricane Dennis doesn't hit them hard this week.