Traveling Beyond the Canyon
GRAND CAYMAN—With a genuinely tempting, lilting tranquility, everything is mild on Grand Cayman. It is an island decked out in inoffensive pastels. Even the street names are dignified: Paradise Lane, Snooze Lane, and Friendly Lane. The closest I come to infamy is a tiny village curiously named Hell. Back in the 1930s, so the legend goes, a commissioner from England shot at a bird among the pointy black rocks on West Bay, and missed. "Oh Hell!" he exclaimed and so the name stuck. Hell, though, is little more than a lame, charred bed of limestone and dolomite, merchandised relentlessly by local Lothario Ivan with his must-have "I've Been to Hell" postcards and "How the Devil Are You?" T-shirts.
At Pedro St. James, the oldest stately house on the island, we tour the cool, mahogany-floored verandahs virtually uninterrupted. With so few people around to distract him, George announces, "History is pretty cool." That (if you know my son) is earth-shaking news.
The island is unabashedly languid, with one notable exception: the sea. Since the early 1980s Grand Cayman's reefs have played host to tens of thousands of divers a year, yet they remain ravishingly, vibrantly alive. The island is famous for its wall diving. It is perched on the brink of the Continental Shelf where divers come to contemplate a 6,000-foot abyss far too formidable for a landlubber like me. The Atlantis Submarine tour provides an easier compromise. We descend 1,001 foot for a sublime taste of canned Caribbean.
Despite a fascination with every creature that swims, dives and ducks, I suffer from an embarrassing snorkeling phobia. George doesn't. When his childlike tenacity wins me over, I join him aboard a boat bound for Stingray City. Captain Marvin ferries us to a sand bank in the North Sound where we stand up to our waists in thrashing rays, while these silky giants mug us for strips of squid doled out by the crew. Twenty minutes later and George is still refusing to get out of the water. Buoyant in his life vest, he bobs on the surface, captivated by the gentle audacity of the stingrays. He reckons they are like his pet labrador and I am advised they're about as harmless.
With nightlife barely existent here, Caymanians bank on a pageantry of pubs (as befits a British island). Naturally, most have relentless, seafaring themes, occasionally in quite unexpected ways. At Rackams one evening George slips away with his new friend Thomas. I find them squatting perilously on the rocks below the pub's jetty, cheered on by the barmen, each hurling chunks of fish to the ravenous tarpon below.
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