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Grand Cayman Island • 15 minutes read • September 15th, 2015
At 10 am cruise ship '

Mariner of the Seas

' reached the Cayman Islands. Although, it would be more accurate to write 'stopped a mile away from the shore'. The depth of coastal waters of 

Grand Cayman 

in the area of 

George Town

, the capital of the archipelago, is quite small, so modern cruise ships can't physically get closer. Thus, the landing of passengers is carried out by tenders.

Boats-tenders have a dual function: they carry people from ship to shore and back, and at the same time serve as lifeboats in emergency situations.

For all passengers not to force into the boat at the same time, the vessel has the system of boarding passes. The day before landing or in the morning you need to go to customer service (on the 'Mariner' it is located on the 5th deck), where you will get a ticket for the desired time (for free). Each tender can carry no more than 200 people at a time. Some cruise ships carry tenders with them, others use the services of local companies.

5 minutes of slight rolling, and here we are setting foot on the land of the Cayman Islands, an overseas territory of the UK. The Islands were discovered by indefatigable friend Columbus already in 1503, and it was not easy to land there - giant herds of green turtles literally blocked the ships' way. Amazed by their abundance, Columbus even called a new land 'Las Tortugas', which in Spanish means 'turtles'.

But the name didn't stick, as hadn't remained the turtle herds, which were almost completely wiped out because of their delicious meat as a result of years of fishing. It is interesting that the current name of the Islands is a result of a misunderstanding: species of large lizards - iguanas - were mistaken for the caimans (crocodiles with the shell on the belly). We wanted to see them first thing on the island.

We got in contact with the local rental office 'Cayman Auto Rentals' back at home, which had an office located very close to the port and which had promised us to rent a car for $70 from 10 am to 5 pm. Also, foreign drivers must obtain a required visitor's driving permit on the Cayman Islands which you can buy in the same car rental office or at the police station for $7.50.

And most importantly: traffic on the Caymans is left-handed, hi metropolis! Oddly enough, it wasn't an embarrassment for us, although we hadn't previously driven like that. Speed on the island is low, about 35 miles per hour; roads are in very good condition. Only roundabouts shocked us at first - you can only drive on them in a clockwise direction.

At the rental office, we were pleased that they had reserved the car for us - all the others had already been taken, and this one was repeatedly 'attempted' according to the staff. After securing a car seat for our daughter, we finally made our way to the Eastern part of the island, to the iguanas.

Everything around was in tropical colors, life in the villages was running slowly and steadily, and reminded us of rural Belize if you go in the direction towards Guatemala. About an hour after landing from the ship, we were on the territory of the Botanical garden where blue iguanas lived.

Blue iguana - a rare species of lizards of the Cyclura genus (Cyclura lewisi) - is the island's endemic species that is found nowhere else, and unfortunately, is endangered. In the beginning of zero years only three (!) of them remained there, and it seemed like the earth was about to lose another species.

However, famous Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which many read about in the books of Gerald Durrell ('Jersey trust'), stepped in to save the situation. Thanks to the work that has been done, several hundreds of iguanas live in the reserve on the island. Complete extinction of Blue Cyclura in the wild nature that was predicted by the early twenty-first century seems unlikely now.

According to one theory, these reptiles appeared on the island because of the Cuban iguana (related species; diverged from a common ancestor about three million years ago), that happened to come to this land after the storm while being pregnant. Evolving into a separate species, Blue Cyclery colonized the whole island, choosing open rocky space in the forest or near the ocean. Heated sandbanks are a great place for the incubator: it is exactly here every year, from June to July, females dig two-foot holes where they lay their eggs.

By the way, iguanas turn bright blue only in the presence of other iguanas, especially males. They usually remain neutral gray-blue color. Imagine what a handy ability! For example, you come to a party in a new dress from a cool designer and there is someone there in the same dress, and then you... BAM! - become gray-brown-crimson speckled. Embarrassment is ended, everyone is happy.

But back to our lizards. They are quite large, weigh up to 30 lbs (14 kg) and reach a length of five feet. They've got very interesting eyes - the iris is golden, and the sclera is bright red like poured with blood. Also, Blue iguanas have an interesting photosensory body at the top of their head (little blue circle with a tiny gray element inside), in other words, the third, or parietal eye. This 'eye' doesn't work the same as normal one, it only has a rudimentary retina and lens and therefore cannot form an image. However, it is sensitive to lighting changes (light-dark) and reacts to movement.

Life expectancy of blue Cyclura in the wild is unknown, but it is assumed to be several decades. There is a famous case when American naturalist Thompson caught the Blue Iguana, later named 'Godzilla', on Grand Cayman in 1950. In 1990 reptile was sold to a Texas breeder who donated it after seven years to the local zoo where 'Godzilla' died of its old age in 2004. Thus, the age of that reptile was estimated to be 69 years, 54 of which were spent in captivity.

So, what does the Queen have to do with anything? Blue Iguana must have blue blood! The fact is that the biggest amount of Cycluras now live on the territory of the Botanical garden, which Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened on Grand Cayman in 1994.

We were a little worried that we might not see blue Cycluras since it is not a zoo, but when we noticed signs at the parking lot 'Check for sleeping iguanas under your wheels!', there were no doubts. If they crawl between the cars, there should be plenty of them in the garden.

We bought tickets ($10 for adult; children free). 

At the time of opening of the Botanical garden, only 'Woodland trail' was completed. The rest was finished and planned in subsequent years. Now the garden area is divided into zones where the plants are chosen not only by species but also by color. For example, in the section 'The Floral Color Garden' you can clearly see changes from pink to red and then to orange, yellow, white, blue, purple, and finally to lavender.

There is also a restored traditional wooden house, formerly belonging to a local inhabitant Julius Rankin. It has a sand garden around it with typical plants that could be found near similar houses on Grand Cayman at the beginning of the 20th century. The path to the house was decorated with clam-shells. Behind the house, there's an outdoor kitchen-caboose, garden with fruit trees and medicinal herbs.

And, of course - iguanas. Whether it was silk sand that attracted them or saving shadow, but we saw two males and a female there. Despite the fact that they had a rather gentle appearance, while melancholically chewing the grass, you shouldn't come close to them - they can easily scratch you and their claws - are Oh-Ho-Ho! And there is plenty of things to look at in the garden besides the iguanas.

Coral Hibiscus:

Acalypha hispida also known as 'Cat (Fox) Tail'. Like all euphorbias, it has poisonous sap.

Adenium obesum at the entrance in 'The Floral Colour Garden':

Ixora flower (Ixora coccinea) or 'Jungle's Flame' is often named one of the most beautiful flowers in the world. It is a size of a good grapefruit:

Clerodendrum quadriloculare's popular nickname is the Q-tip:

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima):

We remember these fluffy flowers Ohio Léua (Metrosideros polymorpha) very well from our Hawaiian trips. There's a legend:

Ohia and Léua were two young lovers. Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes Pele fell in love with Ohia and offered him herself, but he rejected the intentions of the goddess. Then in a fit of jealousy, she turned the young man into a tree. Soon, the goddess felt guilty and also turned Léua into red flowers on the tree Ohia. It is not recommended to separate these lovers, and a popular sign says that when you pluck a flower from the tree Ohia, it always starts to rain.

I don't know how true this legend is, but as soon as I brought my hand to the flower, without intent to pluck, but just to touch it, something suspiciously rumbled in the sky...

Ginger cone:

And this is a blooming ginger flower in the crocodile's mouth. There are two ponds on the territory of the garden. One is a small pond with thick thickets along its banks. The second one is a real lake, a refuge place for many water birds. 

Noni tree (Morinda citrifolia L.). Recently, there's been an observed madness on the Internet related to 'all healing' Noni sap. This sap is usually mixed with the grape one because it is nasty enough in its pure form, and sold as medicine. Some believe it, some don't, but we didn't see any Noni-rush on Grand Cayman. Maybe, it's not a season... 

This was the end of our slow walk around the Botanical Garden. In general, it is a very pleasant and quiet place, without cruise crowds. 

And where did all the other cruisers spend their time? Certainly on the famous Seven Mile Beach and at 'Stingray city' - underwater 'city' named after the stingrays. Lack of the rivers on Grand Cayman explains the exceptional transparency of the sea water surrounding the island's shores, and you can easily observe the stingrays. 

But it did not suit us because of a small child, and there was no desire to go to the popular beach. So where should we go for a swim? We chose the most Northern Cape of the island called Rum point, and as it turned out - the choice was good; one of the best places for swimming with the babies.

Rum Point is just a 20-minute drive from the garden with iguanas to the North. 

White fine sand, clear water of Caribbean colors, shallow depth, light breeze, free sun beds, dressing rooms and showers, beer and Pina Colada from the beach bar - what else do you need to relax...

After having a good swim, we explored the coast a little bit.

Sometimes it seemed like the Hawaiian one, especially the Western part of Maui with Dragon's Teeth and thickets of the beach cabbage-scevola.

Evergreen Casuarina trees densely occupied the shore. These trees are outsiders, not local, and are known for dropping the needles that create such a dense carpet, other plants aren't able to fight through.

Our day stop on Grand Cayman was coming to An end. We returned to George Town, returned the car without any problems and went to the ship, glancing at souvenir shops. Pirate theme was totally cultivated. 'Shot o' Rum' ('shot of rum'), 'Treasure snipes' ('the treasure seekers'), 'Godspeed!' ('Good luck!') were everywhere.

The largest in the world's history hotbed of piracy emerged in the 16th century in these waters through which Spain led its gold and silver fleets. Series of pirate attacks on them had lasted for three centuries.

You can imagine what was the life of ordinary people of the Caribbean at that time. In a report sent from Jamaica in 1644, it is written that the raids of the pirates made the inhabitants of the island 'so nervous and intimidated that when two ships appear near the port they would send women and all movable property in the mountains'. In the same year, the Bishop of Puerto Rico said: 'We are here so besieged by enemies that there are no braves to go to sea to fish because they are immediately captured'.

Caribbean piracy had spread around the entire Eastern coast of North America. There it 'became a great craft with warehouses and agencies in most harbors and ports from Salem in the North to Charleston in South Carolina,' - said Philip Gosse, writer, historian, and naturalist. And Nassau on the island of New Providence, which is now the capital of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, was the real center of the pirates till 1718. Besides them (there were about 12,000 people), there was nobody else...

Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, also used to come to the Caymans - he probably was one of the most famous pirates in history, the prototype of many literary characters. It was rumored that during the battles he would stick igniting wicks in his beard, and in a puff of smoke, like Satan from hell, he broke into the ranks of the enemy, scaring them just with his appearance.

Among the adventurers, it is believed that shortly before his death, Teach hid a large amount of gold and other riches on some deserted island. According to the latest findings, Teache's team really used to keep their treasures on Amelia island (near Florida). However, significant riches weren't found there, at least the general public knows nothing about it.

By the way, Blackbeard is also famous for the saying 'Rum is completely harmless for the liver, because it instantly makes you lose touch'. Armed with this guidance, we bought rum (Yo Ho Ho!) in one of the port shops and were tempted with the rum cake.

Rum cakes are a traditional dessert in the Caribbean, especially during the holidays. Rum is really a part of it (almost 5-7%). I mean, after eating these cupcakes you can get tipsy. You can also find them in the States in the wine shops, and they are even cheaper than in the 'homeland'.

We returned to the ship on the last tender with 10-12 other people. It seemed the majority of passengers had been on board already for a long time. Departure was not announced, and if you do not look out the window or come out on the deck, you won't know if you are floating or not.

The evening passed like the previous ones: dinner in the WJ, games, Boardwalk, cocktails. By the way, bartenders always gave the baby something delicious at the bar - a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries, sliced oranges with berries. It was very nice.
Author: Andreev
Translated by: Gian Luka

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