Tuesday, March 04, 2008
  The Caymans!
So we just got back. It was fabulous! :)

Grand Cayman from the air
My picture, Grand Cayman from the air

We flew out Friday, after class/work. Got there at, like, 8:30... We got a taxi (which drove on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD) and went to try out the Sunset House.

Angry Cabbie
My picture of Grand Cayman's own angry cabbie

We were playing our accommodations by ear, so we went there hoping they would have space. They did, but for um... well, a bit more than the book said we would expect to pay there. Since it was late, Chris decided to just go ahead and stay there for the night, we would look for someplace more reasonable the next day, etc.

I am so glad that it worked out this way because this place was perfect! It is a little hotel resort thing that is catered specificially towards divers.

They also have a nice restaurant there, that the locals actually come to eat at during their lunch hour -- it's not just some crappy hotel restaurant. The funniest thing is that the restaurant is run/owned by Indians, so they have the usual seafood fare, but they also have Indian food, so Chris was in heaven, eating spicy Indian for every meal. AND you have the option of eating inside, or by the water, OR at the bar by the water, which is obviously less... well, stuffy. So that was great. We actually did leave the resort a few times to eat, but having all that on-site was fabulous.

Onto the diving. They have a dive shop on site, with boat dives leaving every morning from the dock at the back of the hotel. Aside from boat dives, they have shore diving -- RIGHT THERE. Like, you can walk out of your hotel room, walk down the stairs to the locker they've let you use to store your gear, suit up, grab a tank from the huge rack they have just sitting out, and walk a stone's throw (maybe two throws) to the water's edge and hop in... and you're diving. And not Lauderdale-by-the-Sea shore diving, either. We were down 25-50 feet the whole time, seeing sea turtles and groupers and all sorts of stuff. I didn't realize that we would have shore diving, so that was a nice surprise.

Divers getting ready to go out.
My picture

Obviously, we decided to stay at the Sunset House for the rest of the vacation.

So Saturday we slept in. They had warned us when we checked in that they had been experiencing some windy weather, so they weren't sure if the boats would be going out the next day. I thought, "Great, the whole vacation is ruined," thinking we were in for a windy few days. But the weather was perfect Saturday, and for the rest of our stay too. Perfect. So Saturday afternoon we did a shore dive. We started out in this little pool, since it looked like a friendly little area.

My picture

The dive was nice, and Chris navigated us right back to where we needed to get out. Right about now, I'm wishing I took notes since I am blanking on all the details... Not only of the dive, but of what we did which day.

We did see this mermaid statue, by accident. It was actually quite pretty, and very big, and Chris managed to crack me up underwater. It made me spit out my regulator. Heh. The poor mermaid... As you see, she's covered in marine growth, algae and whatnot... Strangely enough, her nipples are PERFECTLY SHINY AND CLEAN. She must get molested on a daily basis. Rubbed for luck, maybe?

Not my picture


I got my own picture of the mermaid by the pool. Not quite the same effect. :)

Mermaid like the one we saw diving.

Here's a YouTube video of the statue, which is kinda cool. It shows a grey angelfish... Chris had one of those following him on every dive, it seemed... And the video also shows a sea turtle and stuff. Gives you non-divers a little taste of what diving really looks like. Damn, I gotta get that little camera fixed; doing little videos like this would rock.

Sunday we did a boat dive, which was a big fiasco. They basically moved us onto the 1st boat (we were scheduled for the 2nd) without telling us, then blamed us for not checking the board (as if anyone told us we needed to), and Chris couldn't find the key for the locker (as you're being rushed is NO TIME TO TRY TO FIND SOMETHING)... And of course, all the staff is British (no offense) and not working for tips so everyone is being rude. But we ended up getting on the boat finally and everything is fine, although everyone is probably annoyed with us. Whatever.

The dives were really nice. We did a really cool dive... The only way I can describe it is that the underwater terrain there is really awesome. Lots of swim-throughs and stuff. We went down to 120 feet on this dive, which is by far the deepest I had ever gone, but I discovered it was really no big deal. The weirdest part was the feeling that I was "climbing" upwards as we swam to 100, then 90 feet, etc. We had tunnels to go through, walls to go up... There was a wall that you could see down FOREVER it seemed. It was just very interesting and far from just more reef and more reef. The second dive was a wreck that had basically fallen apart. The bow was intact, but that was it, and everything else was laying in piles in the sand.

Not my picture, of the Oro Verde (yes, it was used to transport weed)

Oh, look, a YouTube video of diving the Oro Verde, too.

I thought the funniest part was that, since the bow was intact, there were three portholes along the one side. I was making my way along them and peering inside, blocking the light out of the sides of my mask so I could see the fish taking refuge inside the boat.

Fairy Basslet, not my picture, duuuuuh

This little fish, just like the picture above, kept meeting me at the porthole and staring at me. The same fish, every time. Mind you, these guys were EVERYWHERE in the Caymans -- everywhere -- and it seemed that about 50% of the time, they were swimming upside down, or at least sideways, but there was just this ONE on this side of the boat. And he REALLY wanted to know why I was being so nosey. I like to anthropomorphize; it makes life more amusing. :)

Another great sight Sunday was on the first dive. There was a sea turtle and a queen angelfish, eating something off a rock (?) together. Just going crazy. All the divers got fairly close to them, but they didn't care - they just kept eating and eating.

Monday we did our boat dives in the morning, some more nice dives... Another deeper, explore-the-underwater-terrain dive, and then a go-off-in-your-buddy-pairs dive at a shallower spot. It was nice. Since we knew we couldn't dive Tuesday, after we warmed up and dried off back at the hotel, we did a shore dive there. After all was said and done, that day was a FOUR SEA TURTLE DAY. :) Chris is better at spotting them than me, since I'm usually staring at something like an arrow crab. I think I only spotted one of them on my own (maybe two; I do remember making the signal to Chris for sea turtle), and it was because we were swimming out for our shore dive and I looked down and saw a sea turtle and said, "It's a sign! This is where we go down!

The funny thing is, the sea turtles are really friendly in the Caymans, despite the Caymanians' tendency to eat them.

Apparently turtle is one of their national dishes
My picture

They let us get ridiculously close. I wasn't stupid... I didn't TOUCH them or anything, but I would swim up and look at their flippers and their shells and smile at their little sea turtle eyes and my good fortune, and they would just kinda hang out. The one did a turn at me, swimming to the side, not even half-heartedly away from me. Two of the four ended up leaving to go up for air. I was curious how long they would stay up, so I sat there, kicking my fins 10 feet off the sand and looking up. They both disappeared in the second it took me to look down to make sure I wasn't sinking towards the sand/reef. Their silhouette as they floated on the water's surface was something else, though...

Oh, let's not forget my favorite sighting on the dives. Favorite. A baby trunkfish. SO CUTE. I was so happy to see it, especially since he was tucked away in a crevice and trying very hard to hide from me. Too bad the lady with the fancy underwater camera wasn't around... Even though we saw a sea turtle on this dive, too, the first thing out of my mouth as I got on board the boat was, "I saw a baby trunkfish!!!"

Oh, another favorite part was all the garden eels. When you first look out into the sand, your first assumption may be that they're just marine weeds or something, but then it dawns on you: they're fish!

Up close:

You can't get too close to them, but it's crazy to watch them swaying in the current... fields of them. When you approach to get a better look, they disappear down their little burrow.

So the dives were great. It had been a while... I was happy to be back in the water. The temperatures were something like 80 degrees, yet I was still cold in my 3mm wetsuit, which scares me quite a bit considering Galapagos is only a couple of months away. But even when I'm cold, I'm happy underwater. However, I definitely think that 7mm is in my immediate future...

We decided to rent a car yesterday so we could explore the island a little during our non-diving day today, so we got a Swift from Andy's Car Rental. It was a GOOD MOVE.

Our cute little rental car, a Swift!

A good move not only for the sake of independence and adventure, but also for the fact that it was good for laughs. Chris didn't get the hang of the turn signal until today, so all of yesterday would turn the windshield wipers on every time he wanted to signal. EVERYTHING IS ON THE WRONG SIDE, see. I kept walking over to the driver's side to get in. He would reach down to the right for the gear shift, when it was actually on the left. Et cetera. Good times.

roundabouts are FUN.  seriously.

The Caymans are a British territory. You can't really tell, actually, except that they have the Queen's portrait on their money and on a building here and there, and there is a Ye Olde Bakery & Tea Shoppe here and there. And the whole driving-wrong-side thing. And the kids in the schoolyard were playing CRICKET. I thought it was soccer, but not even... I mean, honestly, cricket?? Do kids play cricket in Britain, even?

And then there are the roundabouts! They were fun! We only had to go around one of them twice, so I think Chris is definitely and officially a Very Good Driver. :) I would've been white-knuckled and crying if forced with both driving on the wrong side of the road, while sitting on the wrong side of the car, and ALSO faced with a roundabout, so I am very impressed.

Anyway, the driving around, yesterday and today, was really nice. We drive around most of the perimeter of the island today, I think. The Caymans are obviously not a poor nation -- I think they have as many BMWs there as in South Florida -- but we saw some of the obviously not-affluent parts today. I think some of the houses that were just wrecked by hurricanes and never built back up. Some other houses, they were just shacks on the beach... Poor folks living oceanfront. It is really a gorgeous place. Feels very much like an island. Feels very small, as it is.

Over the Edge Cafe - where we ate today

This is where we ate lunch today. I guess it got really damaged in Ivan a few years back. Look at that water! It was nice, and quiet, and not at all touristy. Chris got his oxtail, I got my pancakes; we were both happy.

I also had a little gang of curly tail lizards begging for food. Since this happens at home with the dogs, and they all know to beg from me, this was hilarious. "Chris, why are they all looking at me?" I asked. Chris answers, "You know why." Not one to disappoint, I shared my honeydew. :) We have these lizards in Florida, too, but they are non-native and detrimental to our ecosystem, so it was nice to see them in one where they belonged.

This little guy was begging for food.

I went out to give my leftovers to a dog I saw hanging around outside. Thankfully, there were only a few dogs running loose there and they all appeared to be well fed. This guy did, too, but I wasn't going to eat the pancakes, so I wrapped them up and brought 'em outside. I started petting the dog and saw that he was crawling with fleas. And I found two ticks, on just the one side. I started picking fleas off him, but it was just a ridiculous task. I felt horrible. He must've had hundreds on him; I go crazy if I see one on one of my animals. I mean, I've been bitten by a flea before.. and it ain't a good feeling. And then the ticks.. Agggh. So I pet him for a while, but in the end just had to leave, feeling bad. I mean, I'm glad the restaurant feeds him, but... I'm like, how hard would it be for SOMEONE to give this fella a bath? His fur is WRITHING with parasites! How can that not get to SOMEONE that sees him regularly? Blah.

Okay, so anyway, Grand Cayman was really nice. Chris, a spectacularly busy, energetic person, was complaining that there is nothing to do there but dive (this is pre-car rental), so I reminded him over and over that he has to learn to RELAX. (And then I made fun of him: "My name is Chris, and I hate birthdays and vacations and relaxing..." Of course, whenever I make fun of him like that, he just reminds me that I love him so, really, he can't be that bad. Dammit, he has a point.)

And, bless his heart, he did relax:


A little. :) Yes, that's Chris, sitting by a pool, reading a book. I was so, so proud. I had to scramble to get my camera out.

We actually watched the sun set every night we were there, I think.

We went to the IGA for some snacks and headed to the beach for sunset after our dive on Monday.

Chris watching the sun set.

It was good.

When we got back into George Town today, or where the cruise ship all disembark, we saw that there were two cruise ships docked. Then we saw the throngs of people.

Two cruise ships descend upon George Town, Grand Cayman.

We had been walking through this area and this whole thing is a GHOST TOWN, except when the cruise ships are in. It's eerie. There are all these stores that just open just for the cruise ships. And it's all SO FAKE. The souvenir shops, the pirate ship tour, the submarine tour, the Hard Rock Cafe, the clothing stores... After exploring the whole island for the day, driving back into THIS and the tourists walking through what they thought was "the Caymans" made us both just shake our heads. It may as well be Disney World, you know?

Funny enough, when Chris's mom found out we were going to the Caymans (which blissfully coincided with her visit to South Florida), she was semi disgusted and said, "Why would you want to go there? We stopped there once when we were on a cruise and there's nothing to do." I guess if I thought The Caymans were just another version of Key West and I didn't dive to boot...

Now we're back in Fort Lauderdale and... Well, just like when we came back from Costa Rica, it all of a sudden seems very big and loud here. I can't wait until this summer when we can spend some quiet weekends over in the Bahamas.

So anyway, to recap: Caymans = good. The people seem to be a little on the rude side, but at least they are very polite drivers. The diving is good. I don't have much to compare it to, but Chris has been diving all over the world and says it is good diving, so there you go. A car rental is highly suggested. Tada! I'm going to bed now. :)
mmm.... pancake-ees..
Hi Stacey,

My sister's name is Stacy too. If you won't leave your boyfriend and come marry me, would you please be so kind as to change the caption on my Fairy Basslet image to read: ©2008 ? It's matter of protecting my copyrights.

I prefer the first solution, but it's your choice of course.

Thanks, Courtney
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I'm Stacey. I'm a 31(!)-year-old Wisconsin girl living in sunny South Florida. The highlights in my life are my lovely boyfriend, my aloof cats, my adorable/adoring stepdogs, my two lumbering tortoises, select family members, being outside, being underwater, taking pictures, yadda yadda. Stay tuned for lots of babbling!

Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States


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Making a difference

A small boy lived by the ocean. He loved the creatures of the sea, especially the starfish, and he spent much of his time exploring the seashore.

One day the boy learned there would be a minus tide that would leave the starfish stranded on the sand.

When the tide went out, he went down to the beach, began picking up the stranded starfish, and tossing them back into the ocean.

An elderly man who lived next door came down to the beach to see what the boy was doing. Seeing the man's quizzical expression, the boy paused as he approached. "I'm saving the starfish!" the boy proudly declared.

When the neighbor saw all of the stranded starfish he shook his head and said: "I'm sorry to disappoint you, young man, but if you look down the beach, there are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see. And if you look up the beach the other way, it's the same. One little boy like you isn't going to make much of a difference."

The boy thought about this for a moment. Then he reached his small hand down to the sand, picked up another starfish, tossed it out into the ocean, and said: "Well, I sure made a difference for that one!"

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