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A Grand Cayman Wow

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By Richard Carroll

The sea mutating from turquoise to deep blue to hues of green etched and sliced by the wind while drifting clouds cast indifferent shadows across the shoreline of Seven Mile Beach is where the mesmerizing rhythms of the sea mingle effortlessly with its ageless songs.

Though not quite seven miles long, this historic soft coral sand beach ranks among the Caribbean's best. Beyond the sand, more than 150 superb classified diving and snorkeling sites extend into the deep. Best explored with a Cayman guide, most of whom were swimming straight out of the crib, these sites encompass vibrant reefs, aged shadowy wrecks, deep canyons and sheer walls where the underwater world dramatically unfolds.

With sails stretching to catch an erratic breeze, Red Sails Sports carries visitors to Stingray City, a shallow barrier reef that is home to some 25 southern Atlantic stingrays on the north side of the island, via their 65-foot catamaran. Guests slip into the water and swim with Scarface, a favorite, or Big Mama, who always recognizes the catamaran. The color and clarity of the Caribbean are an artist's dream, and being up-close to these splendid and supremely independent creatures is certainly a memorable and educational experience.

Grand Cayman, a speck on the map just 22 miles long and eight miles wide at its widest point, is the jewel of the Caribbean, while its nearest neighbor is Cuba, some 227 miles to the north. Traffic can be heavy at times, despite having only six traffic lights on the entire island. Left-lane driving and tricky roundabouts mean drivers can end up in the incorrect lane and then discover that residents are generally forgiving and polite.

They also stop for pedestrians and carefully obey traffic laws, which are strictly enforced. For those who don't feel up to international driving, a van-style public transportation system operated by drivers who greet frequent passengers by name is exceedingly efficient.

 

The British Overseas Territory is among the safest in the Caribbean with a high standard of living and economic stability supported by more than 500 offshore banking establishments and a gaggle of public walk-in banks in George Town, the small unpretentious island capital. The Caymans say, "What is beyond some of the locked unmarked doors in George Town will definitely set the imagination aflight, though the owners of the currency and wealth, who number in the thousands, most likely have never had the time to enjoy a holiday in the Caymans."

Grand Cayman has attracted a collection of renowned chefs from all corners of the globe, creating an impressive dining scene. Gourmands will want to plan meals with Crystal Marshall, chef de cuisine at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, and Executive Chef Massimo Defrancesca and his staff at Kimpton's Seafire Resort & Spa, whose kitchen sizzles. The ongoing culinary issue that chefs keenly agree upon is that turtles are off-limits, though seeing turtles listed on a menu is an ageless cultural custom among some Caymans.

In 1503, when Christopher Columbus sighted the Cayman Islands, he named them Las Tortugas after the large number of sea turtles seen moving about in the sea, and unfortunately over the years they have been an easy target for the cooking pot. Thankfully, the Cayman Turtle Center was established in 1968 and today is one of the world's pre-eminent turtle research and conservation centers. Joseph Betty, resident artist, explained that the center has released 32,000 turtles, being careful to align them with the stars given that their GPS system is the best in the world.

With more than 9,000 green sea turtles of all ages in residence, the center offers a marvelous opportunity to enjoy them up-close. Look for Florence and Honey in particular. They are majestic, graceful and friendly, weigh in at 550 pounds, are between 70 and 80 years old and, at feeding time, still exhibit the gentle appetites of their youth. The peaceful and tranquil center invites residents and visitors alike to unwind and meditate.

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