Cayman Islands Dive Report
Photography courtesy of Courtney Platt
Copyright © 2006 -- All Rights Reserved
|About the Author - Susan Young is truly a Cayman Islands expert. A NAUI and TDI Scuba Instructor, Susan lived in Grand Cayman for almost fifteen years, 1989-2004. She worked for Red Sail Sports at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, is Tri-Mix certified, and holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master Ship Captain's license. Over the years Susan has accumulated a great knowledge of, and an abiding love for, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. We are certainly pleased to have her back at Island Dreams Travel, where she is again able to share her expertise and insight with you.|
CAYMAN ISLAND TOURISM EXCHANGE -- Island Dreams Travel was invited to participate in the annual Cayman Island Tourism Exchange conference held in May 2006. The CITE conference is held on Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands, and is an opportunity for travel wholesalers to meet with hoteliers, condominium managers, dive operators, tour operators and representatives from the tourism sector of the Cayman Islands Government. This year's conference was particularly important because it was the first one held following a near 100% recovery from Hurricane Ivan's impact in September 2004.
AFTER HURRICANE IVAN -- Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were mostly spared damage from Hurricane Ivan, but Grand Cayman took the brunt of the category 5 storm. Since that time, condominiums, hotels, and tourist attractions have wisely utilized the time to repair and renovate to a higher standard than pre-storm, updating basics like bath and kitchen facilities, replacing furniture, applying fresh coats of paint and replanting garden areas. The hibiscus, bougainvillea, jasmine, orchids and oleanders are more lush and brilliant than I remember from my time living on Grand Cayman.
EXCITING PLANS -- The Honorable Charles Clifford, Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce for the Cayman Islands Government, spoke eloquently about the recovery, and future plans for attracting more visitors to the Cayman Islands. On the drawing board are plans for an expanded airport facility on Grand Cayman; sinking of a decommissioned 251-foot long U.S. Navy submarine rescue ship, the U.S.S. Kittiwake, to create an artificial reef; activities organized and sponsored by the National Trust to share Caymanian heritage with visitors; and a program entitled "Go East!" which will emphasize the beauty, accommodations and attractions of the eastern districts.
COBALT COAST RESORT -- Cobalt Coast Resort graciously hosted my stay while on Cayman, and Arie Barendrecht, Nancy Easterbrook and Dora Valdez could not have done a single thing to make my stay more comfortable. Arie is the manager of the resort, assisted by Dora, and Nancy is the operations manager for Dive Tech, the on-site dive operation. After arriving on Saturday afternoon, Dora and I were chatting in the open-air reception area while I had glass after glass of iced tea. As with many ex-pat residents of Cayman I've met through the years, it was diving that brought Dora and her partner to the island, coming to Dive Tech to complete a trimix course ... basically they loved it, found work, and stayed (happened to me, too, 17 years ago!).
ONE-BEDROOM SWEET -- Arie then showed me to my room, an ocean front 1-bedroom suite that was very spacious, filled with light, and right away felt like home away from home. Arie is of Dutch heritage and brings a contemporary European influence to all rooms and furnishings: colorful Marimekko fabrics for the draperies and bedspreads fit beautifully in a Caribbean setting, light wood cabinet doors on the refrigerator and in the bathroom cabinets accentuate the light ambiance, and one of my favorite features was a deep tub, with a fabulous hand-held shower as an option. Amenities in all room types include a pitcher of cold water waiting for you in the 'fridge, a coffee maker, coffee, sugar, real creamer also in the refrigerator, coffee mugs and drinking glasses. In the bathroom, you'll find an ample supply of towels, a full-size bottle of shampoo, full-size bars of soap, and a hair dryer (beach/pool towels are available for the asking at the reception area). All rooms and suites have a CD player (bring your discs!), cable television, a bedside clock/alarm radio, and telephones with international access. If you are an Internet aficionado, bring along your laptop, for Cobalt Coast Resort also features free WiFi web connection.
SUNSET WATCHING -- After changing clothes and putting away my belongings, I found a sunset-viewing seat on the patio dining area for dinner. The chef offers specials each evening plus there is a set menu to choose from. I wasn't ravenous and decided on two appetizers, deep-fried calamari arranged on a bed of seaweed salad (yummy!) and a Caesar salad that was lightly dressed and hit the spot. Arie joined me just as I was finishing dinner. With my prodding and assuring him to talk "business" would be okay, he told me of the different types of accommodations at the resort, services over and above the usual for divers, and plans for special event weeks in the upcoming year.
DINING for DIVERS -- The kitchen opens at 6:30 AM daily, with a full breakfast menu ranging from the bare minimum you might want of toast or yogurt, to omelets or full breakfasts of eggs and pancakes. Lunch is offered each day, timed around the return of the dive boats. Dinner service begins at 5:30 PM, and on the two evenings weekly that Dive Tech conducts guided night dives, the kitchen stays open late to feed the divers upon their return to land. The food is excellent quality, plentiful, and always served with West Indian hospitality.
DIVE TECH -- On this visit I had just one day available to dive with Dive Tech, and so set out on Wednesday morning for the North Wall. All members of the dive staff, first and foremost, have your safety and well being in mind. They went over general boat etiquette before leaving the dock and also ensured that each guest had all their dive equipment. In a democratic manner, they inquire if there are any sites you would particularly like to dive, or, as on the day I was diving, tantalize you with reports of pelagics being sighted the previous three days and ask if you're game to try for a 4th day. We were destined for Tarpon Alley hoping for an encounter with an 8-foot hammerhead. Once the boat was tied to the permanent mooring, the captain briefed us specifically on the site, allowing 60 minutes of bottom time with caveats of not coming within 8 minutes of no decompression limits and being mindful of air consumption. We met at the base of the mooring line and had a leisurely dive, ever watchful for The Big Guy. Tarpon were present in their usual large numbers, we enjoyed the gracefulness of 2 spotted eagle rays, but alas, the hammerhead must have known we were coming because there was no sign of him. We did, however, see one of the largest turtles I've seen in the waters around Cayman - I would venture to guess he weighed 400 pounds, with a shell about 2-1/2 feet across. Boarding the boat after a 5-minute safety stop at 20 feet, we changed tanks, had fresh orange wedges, lots of drinking water and slowly made our way to the next site. After a 45-minute surface interval, we dived Bear's Paw with a wonderful overhang where I've seen a 6-foot green moray on previous dives and many, many fish. We returned to the dock and were driven back to Dive Tech, where the aromas of lunch were quite enticing. I could hear a nap calling, but had a few more business appointments to keep.
TOPSIDE ATTRACTIONS -- During those afternoon time periods when you're not shopping or napping, there are many great topside attractions to be enjoyed around Grand Cayman. Here are a few of my favorites:
Butterfly Farm -- The Cayman Butterfly Farm has beautiful butterflies indigenous to Cayman plus species from around the world. The life cycle of butterflies is fascinating, albeit brief, and the Butterfly Farm is a delightful learning experience. The butterflies also make wonderful photo subjects. Wear a brightly colored shirt, and they will tend to alight on you.
Botanical Gardens -- Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park suffered greatly during the hurricane, but with much TLC, rain, and natural evolution, is open again. The Colour Garden at the park is a sight to behold ~ bougainvillea, hibiscus, bottle brush, ginger, heliconia, caladiums in every garden color imaginable. There is an area dedicated to plants indigenous to the Cayman Islands and the park is also a sanctuary for the blue iguana. You'll hear the squawking of Cayman parrots flying about as well.
Skate & Surf Park -- For the restless kids, just a 10-minute trip to the east of downtown is Black Pearl Skate & Surf Park. The skate area was designed by Michael McIntyre and if the kids are not skaters, this is a great opportunity for lessons complete with all the padding and guidance they need. The surf park has between 10,000 and 150,000 gallons of fresh water per minute flowing through to give surfers exactly the ride they want. Castaway's Grille is located immediately adjacent to the skate/surf park, and an ideal spot for lunch or dinner.
Cayman Turtle Farm -- Plans had been in place prior to the hurricane for expansion of the Cayman Turtle Farm. The long-time structures that stood on the shore were obliterated as a result of the storm but not before the majority of the turtles were moved to new homes across the road. Following the hurricane, work was accelerated on the Boatswain Beach project (pronounced Bo-sun) and today it is about 75% complete. The facility is dedicated primarily to the life of marine turtles but includes all types of marine life. A guided tour is fascinating and you'll see turtles in all sizes, from recent hatchlings to the breeders, sometimes 3-feet across on their shell. Construction is still underway for a predator tank where visitors can view several types of sharks, an aviary that will be home to Cayman parrots, and a fresh water lagoon for snorkeling. In the main reception centre, the high wooden ceiling is designed to replicate the inside of a hull of the elongated but narrow wooden boat used in the early days of fishing and turtling in the Cayman Islands. There will also be a theatre where visitors can watch films of the unique history of the Cayman Islands. Did you know the green sea turtle is an herbivore? Or that it's called a green sea turtle because of the color of it's fat?
CAYMAN BRAC -- The sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are also great destinations. Cayman Brac is renovating the museum, and will change exhibits on an annual basis. You can rent a car on the Brac and tour the island, driving to the bluff (Brac is Gaelic for "bluff"), the highest point of land of the three islands. The view is beautiful! There are bat caves to explore, warm waters in which to snorkel, bicycling to enjoy, and, as always, terrific diving to be done. The Russian destroyer, renamed the MV Keith Tibbets, was sunk 10 years ago on the north side of Cayman Brac and remains one of the most popular dive sites.
LITTLE CAYMAN -- Little Cayman continues to be a scuba diver's destination, with some of the best diving in the Caribbean. Non-diving activities include bird watching, iguana watching and racing (well, waddling) for the hammocks after lunch and before the afternoon dive boat. Take a small pair of binoculars with you to view the booby birds that roost in the large tree to the west of the dive shop as you're boarding the morning boat. A viewing platform overlooking the pond has been constructed across the road from the resort where you can watch the egrets and hope for a glimpse of the endangered whistling ducks. The mangroves and wetlands areas are full of wild orchids, some indigenous to Little Cayman only.
THE BOTTOM LINE -- Island Dreams is enthusiastic and supportive of the renewed Cayman Islands. The message from the Department of Tourism, Cayman Airways, accommodations providers, visitor attractions and the Caymanian people seems to be " please come and visit!" If you would like more information about my "home away from home," just give me a shout. Susan@divetrip.com.
Photography courtesy of Courtney Platt
Story and Photos Copyright 2006 - All Rights Reserved
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