Coming home with a Cayman hickey |

Coming home with a Cayman hickey

by Jane Stebbins

If you ever win the lottery and go to Cayman Islands, be sure to visit Stingray City.

There are lots of other fun things to do on these three tiny islands. Drinking rum, roasting your skin lobster red, diving Cayman’s famous walls and visiting the town of Hell all come to mind. But only in Stingray City can you get seriously Hoovered by what looks like a mutant flying carpet from the deep. With eyes.

My family and I recently had the opportunity to feed the rays, and being the easygoing kind of folks we are, we laughed and laughed.

“Rays? You mean STING-rays, right? The ones that lash out at you with their tails when you step on them, causing you a life – albeit a short life – filled with pain and localized swelling? Where do we sign up?”

We boarded a tiny ship and ventured out onto the high seas to a sandbar, where Colbert, our Australian/Jamaican/Ethiopian divemaster informed us in unintelligible patois how to feed the rays. Using a stuffed stingray, Colbert pointed to various parts of its body, much in the way Mrs. Hill, my sixth-grade teacher, pointed to various body parts on a doll during Sex Ed. It was almost as embarrassing, out there on the boat, particularly since most of the people had vast expanses of exposed, naked, bare, white skin.

None of us understood what Colbert said, mostly because we failed to bring along a translator. We clearly understood, however, that when he gave us squid to feed the rays, we were not to touch any other part of our body with our hands, or we would get a “big o’ monstha hee-key mon.”

We jumped into the water and were immediately surrounded by flying carpets with eyes and long, pointed tails with spikes. The big ones gracefully swim over to you in search of food, their eyes darting about like those of felons on the lam. The idea is to let the rays know you have food – personally, I think the fact a bunch of neoprene-clad humans jumped in the water was clue enough – by waving your squid-filled fist in front of them.

Colbert showed us how to keep the ray around by grabbing its nose by your thumb and forefinger. He (the ray, not Colbert) will follow you forever, as long as that squid’s stinking up his windshield. Because rays have tiny tummies, we were told to tease them with each piece of squid for 10 to 15 minutes, otherwise they’d fill up and go home.

So tease we did. And it was all fun and games until someone’s eye got poked out! No, wait! That was a different vacation!

I was just getting into the hang of it, guiding a ray around and around over my head, its wings wafting in the ocean water above, when another ray decided it wanted in on the lunch scene. OK. Another one butted me in the back. Another came slinking along the sand. I was surrounded. Wings were fluttering. Mouths – huge gaping, sucking mouths – were looking for food. And those were just my fellow divers.

In a mini-panic attack, I surrendered my piece of squid and watched as a red snapper darted into the fray, sinking its teeth into the squid and my finger. The rays fled the scene like only flying carpets with eyes can.

We continued feeding the rays, gracefully twisting and swirling among them as sharks hovered on the periphery, attracted by our bleeding fingers. I learned how to release the squid so the rays, and not the snapper, would get it. Their gaping triangular mouths went in for the kill – or the suck, as it was – vacuuming up the morsel of food.

No vacuum cleaner I have ever seen has anything on a Southern ray. I’d be willing to bet they could suck color out of a carpet.

Then a fellow diver bolted to the surface, sand, squid and snapper trailing in her wake. She later revealed to us an enormous bruise on her arm that sent Colbert into hysterical laughter.

“You got a hee-key,” he cried. “A Caymon hee-key mon!”

She frowned and looked at the reddening welt on her arm.

A hickey. She was going to have a tough time explaining that one to her shore-bound husband.

That alone was worth the trip to Stingray City.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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