24 February – 1 March 2013
After a mediocre night I got up at 8am and finished packing followed by breakfast. The day before I had agreed with a guy on the street that he would pick me up and take me to the airport around 11am – I promised calling him around 9am to provide a specific time. However, I never got to that because before 9 he showed up at the casa to ask – I told him 11.30. For some unknown reason he still showed up at 11 and had to wait. With that enthusiam you would think he got a really good deal, but the price was USD 5 less the standard fare, so who knows what his motives were...? Anyway, he didn't drive himself but had a friend take me in one of the old American cars.... A smooth ride and 3 hours early at the airport.
I had spent much less than expected in Cuba so I needed to exchange my excess CUC to USD - at the official currency exchange counter there was a 10% government tax on this transaction but at the airport tax counter just next to it was 1:1...? I couldn't get an explanation and of course thought of everything from plain illegal to counterfeit money. However, it seemed genuine enough and I ended up guessing that it's a way for the government to get rid of their USD, but who knows....? When trying to check-in I was told that Cayman Airways departed from terminal 2 not 3 so I had to walk 3k to the other terminal – good thing I was early. And maybe the reason for me to be in the wrong terminal was to do the currency exchange because that possibility didn't exist in terminal 2 – there is always a reason why things happen... it's just a question of finding it.
We boarded the flight on time but for some unknown reason we waited ½ hour for take-off and consequently we were late in Cayman Islands. Since it was getting a bit late in the afternoon I took a taxi to couchsurfer Jason's place to deposit my stuff. He was right about being busy and unable to host me because he had to come home from the office to let me in at 5pm Sunday afternoon (he's an auditor so I know what it's like). Since he couldn't host me, my plan was to leave most of my stuff and head out immediately trying to find a place to pitch my tent for the night. However, since it was late Jason and his room mate Matt offered that I could stay the first night and leave in the morning which I gladly accepted. Jason took me around town to find a place for me to rent a bicycle and later we went out for dinner with some of their friends also staying at their place.
My intention was leaving early next morning but I had an interesting conversation with Joe, so it was noon before I finally left. I walked about 4k down famous 7 Mile Beach (mass tourism when it's worst) and then another couple of kilometres into the capital Georgetown where I did some shopping and quickly found the bicycle shop Jason had helped locate the evening before. They had few bikes and all pretty shitty, but assessing it would be difficult to find another shop I decided to stay positive. Of the two biggest bikes (not so big), one didn't work at all while the other had 3 of 21 gears working – not impressive but it would be sufficient on this flat island. The bikes are usually rented by cruise passengers who only go a few kilometres up and down the coast – they never had anybody wanting to explore the island on a bike so no repair kit. However, I borrowed some tools and a spare tube with an auto valve so I could pump it at a gas station should it be necessary (though 15k between the gas stations on the island). At 2pm I finally headed off through Georgetown and out the beautiful southern coastal road. I had been fairly selective what to bring but after a few kilometres I knew I had brought to much – my backpack was much too heavy. I bicycled along the coast with many big mansions and small towns for 2-3 hours and then found a small grass area suitable for camping just outside Bottom Bay. I read for a couple of hours until dark and then turned in – not much to do after sunset. It was a good night's sleep except for one moment in the middle of the night was awakened by something scratching my back through the tent - I think it must have been an iguana but who knows.... I disappeared as quick as I sat up with a sound of surprise....
It's a small island and with 3 more days I had no hurry to leave early. I left around 10am and drove along the southern coast, up the eastern coast and back along the northern coast. It was nice to bicycle along the coast but there was really not a lot to see as this part of island is quite undeveloped - the ocean, a few beaches, many churces and cemetaries, blowholes in the coastal rocks and a number of smaller towns and big resorts. Mid afternoon I found a small and fairly secluded beach area where I hoped to camp but late afternoon a number of local people showed up and started fishing. I bicycled a bit further and found a place next to a construction dump where I was sure nobody would disturb me. As the day before the weather changed often and quickly - sunshine was nice for taking pictures but almost too hot for bicycling so I quite enjoyed every time it was clouded.
Next morning I continued bicycling along the northern coast up to Rum Point and Water Cay – fairly developed and touristic because there are ferries from 7 Mile Beach. After a while I bicycled back along the coast and across the island until I reached the place I had camped the first night. The last day I only had to go 15k so I spent most of the day at a small beach reading and relaxing before a found a nice camping spot in a small forest. Next morning I got up at 6am as I had promised Jason to pick up my stuff at 8am before he went to work. I was there at 7.30 but it turned out that his friends were still there, so I had time for breakfast and a shower before they drove me to the airport – nice people. Grand Cayman was not very interesting – the western part is too developed and touristic and the eastern part is fairly boring. And on top of that it's one the most expensive islands in the Caribbean because its so close to the US.
And finally a brief history. Columbus discovered the islands in 1503 but they weren't settled until after the British colonised the islands in 1670. In the 18th century the caymanians etablished a reputation of world-class seafares and ship builders. This continued up until the 1950s where tourism slowly took off and the 1960s where the off shore “tax heaven“ was etablished. The latter is still the main driver of the islands economy today.