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Cultural highlights of the bar by the pool

Jane Stebbins

If you ever have the option of spending several thousand dollars to take your family on an island vacation or buying a membership to the local recreation center, hand over your life savings to the rec center.

I now know this from first-hand experience.

We just returned from two weeks in Cayman Islands (mon), where the ocean is as blue as the sky and the natives laugh all the way to the bank. The Caymans are known as the mecca of offshore banking, and it’s no wonder. T-shirts were $40, bottle-openers were $7.50 and a case of beer ran $48.

After we spent $123 CI ($154 U.S.) on appetizers and tap water (“Will that be with ice, mon?), we decided it was best to starve by the pool. That’s where I lost my family. There was a bar at this pool, at which my husband found himself a seat for the week. And there was the pool, in which our daughter, armed with mask and snorkel, annoyed the other tourists by splashing, squealing and sneaking up on honeymooners as they cuddled in the deep end.

This is not what I expected. When we booked this vacation, I was excited to visit the cultural and historical sites of these three tiny islands south of Cuba. I was excited to dig my toes into white sands, dive into light blue waters and make bubbles with colorful fish. Most of all, I excited to do all this with my family.

There is so much to do in Caymans, despite the fact the islands collectively total fewer square miles than a postage stamp.

A turtle farm at the North End is helping the endangered green sea turtle population reestablish itself. The town of Hell is a study in geological formations that look like the flames of Hades.

A shipwreck just south of our resort – I say “our,” because I’m sure we paid seven mortgage payments toward its purchase – begged to be explored. Inside were fish of all colors and shapes: buck-toothed parrotfish that eat coral, tri-colored wrasse, half-purple half-yellow basslets, delicate banded coral shrimp, thin yellow trumpetfish, beady-eyed green eels, friendly angelfish and lurking gray barracuda.

The museum outlined the history of the islands, from their discovery by Columbus in the 1500s to their eventual use as an offshore banking venue. In between have been days of slavery, turtling, fishing and tourism.

I planned to watch the locals as they cleaned the days catch down by the harbor, pulling up conch and snapper for that night’s tourists’ meals. I planned to take the botanical tour through twisted mangrove trees and swamps, among exotic colorful flowers and under trees filled with cawing Cayman parrots.

I hoped to meet people who could tell me the islands’ lore, of the days when pirates made the Tortugas Islands a stopping point in their raids, of the days when the Cayman people banded together to help the U.S. in the war effort.

I planned to dig my toes in the hot sand, fall asleep in a hammock under a palm tree and listen to the constant chatter of the chin-ching bird – the Caymanian equivalent of Summit County’s crow.

I did drag my family along with me to all these things and more, but not without a lot of prodding, threatening and begging.

“You said “for better or worse,’ so let’s go,” I told my husband. “I’ve got reservations for the submarine tour, then we’ll take the Jolly Roger ship out to see the sunset, and dinner’s at Hook’s at 9. Let’s go, let’s go.”

“I’m pretty comfortable right here,” he said, waylaying my efforts by ordering another Stingray beer.

“I’m having fun here, Mama,” my little girl cried, diving into the water, out of earshot of my order to get out of the pool.

We’re planning our next island vacation. Like the Caymans, we’re looking into going somewhere with a lot of local flavor. Somewhere where we can experience the exotic. Somewhere, I’ve learned, with a pool and a bar.

Mon.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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