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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Panama Canal Cruise — October 7, 2010 – Day Fourteen

Day fourteen brought us the beautiful Caribbean island of Grand Cayman. We arrived off the coast of Grand Cayman at 0630 hours amidst a driving rain, strong winds and choppy seas. The seas were too rough for the ship to anchor at Georgetown so the captain moved the ship to Spot Bay where the seas were calmer so we could safely tender into shore.

Were scheduled to depart the ship at 0745 but we did not leave until 0830. Fortunately by the time we left the ship the rain had stopped, but the skies remained overcast. Overcast acceptable, rain no.

After a short ride on the tender with 120 other passengers we reached the dock at Spot Bay and our awaiting buses that would take us to Hell, The Rum Cake Store and the Turtle Farm.

Since Grand Cayman is part of the British Commonwealth they drive on the right hand side of the road. They also have small buses due to the narrow roads and limited parking areas.

Grand Cayman is one of a group of three tropical islands Christopher Columbus called "Las Tortugas" (the turtles) for the sea creatures he found in the ocean water. The designation did not endure, however, for on later maps the islands were labeled the Caimanau, the Carib Indian word for "crocodile." The name "Caimanas" refers inaccurately to the iguanas native to the islands, which were perhaps at one point mistaken for crocodiles. Among other attractions, visitors to the island will enjoy learning about the
turtles, visiting the town of Hell, exploring Seven-Mile Beach and enjoying the undersea world.

Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands, is 22 miles by 8 miles and covers approximately 76 square miles with a population of 57,000. The island uses the Cayman dollar which is the equivalent to $1.25 U.S. Dollars. No need to worry about money exchange as everything is prices in U.S. Dollars. If you need money there are 547 banks on the island. New banking regulations imposed by the U.K. and U.S. since 9/11 have made it much tougher to shelter your money here, so don’t wire all your funds to a bank here with the thought of secreting it away from the eyes of the IRS.

Gasoline costs $6.00 per U.S. gallon (they use the Imperial Gallon) and almost everything is imported onto the island. This makes Grand Cayman a very expensive place to live. Most people buy and drive used Japanese cars. These cars are about two years old and are the ones, with right-hand drive) that the Japanese turn back to the manufacturer and are refurbished and the exported to Asia at a greatly reduced price and much less tax for the buyer. This is how ir was when I was in Sri Lanka.

The highest point on the island is a mere 60 feet above sea level and there are still areas that are considered swamps. Hurricane Iva did a great deal of damage to the island several years ago. Many of the coconut trees were blown over and now developers are forces to import tree for landscaping. The hurricane did a great deal of damage to the homes and resort hotels on the island. For example the Holliday Inn was so damaged that it closed and was sold to the Marriott group and is now undergoing a major reconstruction.

Hotels are not cheap on Grand Cayman. For example a night at the Fritz Carlton will set you back $800 dollars per night. Other will be slightly less, but not much. If you want to buy a nice home or condo you should be prepared to shell out between one and two million bucks.

Up to several years ago Grand Cayman was virtually crime free. With the high unemployment and drugs Grand Cayman has an increasing crime problem, so much so that they are now recruiting policeman from the U.S. and U.K. The unemployment rate in the Caymans is over 12%.

Our first stop on our little tour of Grand Cayman was the little hamlet of Hell. To call it a hamlet is an exaggeration. Hell is nothing more than a souvenir shop, Esso gas station and a few homes. Its major claim to fame is its name. You can send post cards to your friends postmarked from Hell. There are some black volcanic rocks behind the store.

Our stop in Hell lasted twenty minutes and Kathy sent a few cards home. We didn’t buy anything else as there was just not that much the interested us. I took photos of the store, the rocks and the surrounding area and that’s about it for Hell.

Next stop was the Tortuga Rum Cake store where everyone bought a good share of these tasty little cakes. You can also buy almost any brand of rum you could possibly think off. The rum starts at $9.00 per bottle and when you buy it they will deliver it to the ship. You can’t take it on yourself. While at the rum cake store I walked down to the shore and saw just how high the surf was running. It was pretty high.

Our final stop was the Turtle Farm, a sea turtle nursery where Green and Hawksbill turtles are bred and raised for eating. Turtle meat is not cheap. It runs at $27.00 per pound so most natives do not buy the meat. It’s mainly served up in restaurants as soup or steaks. It was a pretty interesting place where we got to hold and pet the turtles — the little ones of course as the big ones have quite a bite. Watch out for the killer turtles.

After our hour at the Turtle Farm we drove into Georgetown, the capitol city of the Cayman Islands. All I can really say about Georgetown is $$$$$$$$. There are mostly high end shops selling diamonds and Rolex watches — I needed neither so I settled for a good cup of coffee at an outdoor café.

After Kathy and the girls did some shopping we hitched a ride in a taxi (at $5.00 per person) back to Spot Bay where we could catch a tender back to the Radiance of the Seas.

All in all it was a good shore excursion that we all thoroughly enjoyed. The skies were not blue, but we had no rain and the wind created a nice breeze that blew away the humidity.

We now have one day left and that will be an at sea day where we will do our packing and getting ready for our flights back to California. This will be my last blog from the Radiance. I will be sending out a newsletter featuring the Panama Canal in a few weeks.

Click here to view an updated version of my Panama Canal Gallery.

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