Sun, Sand, Surf & Scuba … and a Few Sharks

George Town, Cayman Islands

We wrap up our time in Cuba with two days at a Varadero beach all-inclusive. The beach is truly spectacular. The Varadero Blau resort is fine, but kind of over-priced given the quality of the rooms, the food and, especially, the cocktails and wine. The first and only daiquiri I try (but cannot drink) is an unnatural shade of lime green and tastes like industrial bathroom cleanser. Which of course I have never actually drank, but am pretty sure this is what it would taste like.

To make matters worse, after a sunset walk on the beach, we return to the resort to find our shoes have disappeared. We’d left them at the end of the walkway rather than carry them. And poof, they are gone. Mine were just cheap flip-flops, but Craig’s were expensive Keens. Nothing shows up on the security camera.

We take a taxi from the Blau to Havana’s Jose Marti airport, fly to Grand Cayman and then board a 15 seater de Havilland to Little Cayman. Our bungalow, a few steps from Neptune’s Berth beach, is a two-bedroom VRBO type accommodation and is fabulously beachy. Blues, whites and lots of nautical flourishes.

With a population of just 170 people and zero crime, Little Cayman has a very retro feel. Everyone says hello as though they were your best and oldest friend. We know the life histories of all of the waiters who serve us at the beach bar. There is one grocery store, two restaurants and at least three realty offices, which says a lot about the island’s economy.

It is cloudy and a bit rainy our first day so we jump on bikes and spend the morning exploring the island, which is only 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and about a foot above sea level. Sweaty from the exertion, we go for a swim and a snorkel in front of our rental condo. We are just out of the water when a couple of fisherman return with their catch. Tuna and barracuda. No sooner do they throw the fish heads and spines into the water than a sting ray and a shark show up for a snack. We notice the shark’s dorsal fin above the surface of the water and can hardly believe our eyes. The entire island would have no doubt heard our screams had we still been in the water when that showed up!!!

We are here to dive and do three dives in two days. With each dive, we gain confidence. We dive with larger groups than we are used to, 15 divers with just one dive guide and are left somewhat on our own. It is a good step toward gaining more independence.

During our last dive we emerge from a narrow canyon into a huge expanse of blue with a shark swimming in the middle of the scene. Surprisingly I don’t panic. While on the dive boat, we had talked about the possibility of seeing one and the other divers were hopeful, which calmed me down. It’s good to get that experience behind me.

Our friends Kim and Jelana, who live on Grand Cayman, fly over on the Friday and join us for the weekend. Although we have not seen them in ten years, it is effortless to fall back into interesting conversatIons and catch up on our and their travels in the past years.

Kim is an experienced diver, and we dive with him on our last dive. He is beside me when we see the shark and his calm presence is reassuring. Also, while I am barfing off the side of the boat, Kim is barfing off the back. For a change I am not the only diver getting sea sick. Good to have a barf buddy!

We fly to Grand Cayman on Sunday evening. With a population of 70,000 it is a more urban place. Lots of souvenir shops, grand beach resorts, restaurants, cruise ships, realtors and, of course, banks. Known for being a tax haven, the island attracts wealth.

The beach is another beauty. Powdery fine white sand, turquoise water, colourful sail boats. Everything for which the Caribbean is famous. We are staying at a sister resort of the Westin, which means we are across the street and not on the beach, which means we are not paying Westin prices, but for a day rate we can use the Westin facilities. We’re on 7 mile beach, on the western shore of Grand Cayman.

Kim takes us on our first shore dive and are immediately hooked (no pun intended!). No boat ride, no sea sickness, no jumping into huge waves, no wondering where the boat is at the end of the dive, no waiting for other divers to get in and out of the boat, no muss, no fuss. We simply gear up and get into the water at the end of a dock, swim 100 yards to where the reef starts and drop down.

We have the reef to ourselves as we go after Kim is finished work, so there are no other divers. Its just us and the fish. Lots of colourful fellas. A few turtles. A nurse shark. A lobster hiding in the reef. A few eels. A huge hermit crab. Spectacular!!!

I’ve borrowed a video from the internet that captures the experience. This is especially to entice those of you who are thinking you might take the plunge (another accidental pun) and learn to dive. You know who you are! Ryqk

An excursion to “stingray city” is rather touristy but getting close to these magnificent creatures is well worth the trip. They hang out on a sandbar just inside the reef and do not seem bothered by our presence or touch. We pay them back with fresh squid.

Our final day here is Valentine’s Day. We spend the evening with Kim & Jelana, starting with drinks at the new Kimpton Hotel (very trendy spot), followed by a gourmet dinner at Morgan’s (named for 17th century privateer Henry Morgan) a restaurant on the sound with great views of the water.

We always pose the question “would we recommend this place?” at the end of a vacation. As far as we can see, Grand Cayman is a beach destination, catering to those with deep pockets who like fancy resorts. Not exactly our scene! But we are not knocking what has been a relaxing week in a beautiful part of the world. Havana, on the other hand, we highly recommend and we’ll likely return there.

Today we head home to severe rain warnings. We wonder what “severe” rain might look like in a month known for rain. Guess we’ll soon find out.


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