Grand Cayman is a mixed up place. Its a British Island, unrecognized as a sovereign state since its an overseas territory, but Brits need visas to live and work there. They have the Union Jack in their flag and the queen on their coins, but their Caymanian dollar is pegged to the US dollar at a 1.25 exchange rate. Apparently Americans and Canadians don’t need a passport to travel to the Cayman Islands, but Im not sure I believe that since it doesn’t quite make sense. I showed up with my Canadian passport, which they stamped, and counted it as my 78th country, because I certainly can’t say I just spent the last 2 weeks in the United Kingdom.
The slow-paced, easy going “island time” battled the hectic bank scene; the income-tax free laws gave George Town a rat-race feel you’d be used to in downtown Manhattan, since a 9-5 work week and traffic rush hour reminded you what line of work many come to Cayman to do. But as soon as you got to the beach, everything slowed down again, and then you met the other half of Caymans working population – expats from the US, Canada, and other British countries who work the restaurant, bar and nightlife scene.
There’s also a booming tourism scene, with cruise ships dumping thousands of passengers into George Town for 8 hours of crazy consumption -mostly souvenir and jewelry shopping, eating and drinking. There’s also a turtle farm and a dolphin park, where I got suckered into going because I wanted a kiss from a dolphin and to cuddle some turtles.
The culture there is also an interesting melange. You hear a mix of Jamaican, British, and North American English accents, plus a lot of Spanish and Spanglish from the large community of Hondurans living there. The food ranges from American BBQ to creole, west-Indian cuisine, with good jerk chicken and seafood available almost anywhere.
The cost of living is abnormally high, especially when you’re expecting a cheap, Caribbean vacation. Food, alcohol and gas are the most noticeably overpriced, since those are necessities I’ve gotten used to comparing between countries.
I spend ten days in George Town couchsurfing with a girl named Marieke, who was also an interesting mix. She was a British nanny, working once or twice a week for a couple of hours for her fulltime salary, yet had lived there for 2 months without ever going out or making any local friends. She was great company, always a bundle of giggles, and provided me with endless entertainment by the silly things she did and said. My favourite was when I had to convince her that stop signs are not optional, since she had been blowing them all without realizing why people kept honking at her.
In our week together, we went out every night and literally met everyone in George Town. Our most memorable friends included a salsa dance instructor named Kirk (the name Kirk is very famous and used in so many business names), a Caymanian/Honduran named “Ish” (short for Ishmael), a Scottish bartender named Jamie, a friendly Canadian named Marty, and the best male beach volleyball player from the Cayman Islands who advanced to the next round of Olympic qualifier games at a beach volleyball tournament we watched. Its such a small place, that you feel you can get to know everyone and everything on the island very quickly, and the island starts to feel smaller and smaller.
But, with 50,000 people, I wanted even smaller, quiter, slower island time, so we booked a trip to Little Cayman, the sister island with 120 residents.
(to be continued….)