October 24, 2020

Let’s Go: Grand Cayman Islands

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daily Journal 1By Jack McGuire from The Daily Journal

The first sighting of land after his fourth and final voyage to the New World had captain Christopher Columbus and his crew in a tizzy. But it wasn’t making landfall after the long voyage that caused all the excitement. It was the extraordinary scene confronting the ship’s boatswain that nearly caused him to tumble out of the crow’s nest.

According to Columbus’ log, dated May 10, 1503:

“We were in sight of two very small and low islands, full of tortoises [turtles], as was all the sea all about, insomuch that they looked like little rocks.”

A landing party was dispatched quickly and confirmed that the “rocks” were indeed turtles. There were swarms of the curious aquatic creatures in every conceivable size and shape.

The famed explorer named the rock-bound archipelago Las Tortugas, “the turtles” in  Spanish. Today, it is known as the Grand Cayman Islands.

Daily JournalwebThe abundance of sea turtles provided the crew (and later pirates who favored the islands) with a ready supply of fresh meat. The fatty parts were rendered into oil, and the hard shells fashioned into jewelry and other ornamental articles. The green turtle variety made a tasty soup, which is still popular with local islanders.

The legendary sea turtle, now decked out in pirate garb and dubbed “Sir Turtle, is the official logo of the Cayman Islands.

Located 480 miles south of Miami, the British Overseas Territory consists of three islands — Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac — boasting a glittering array of tropical diversions. The largest of the trio, Grand Cayman, a tiny slice of the Western Caribbean 22 miles long and 8 miles wide, has a resident population of 52,000.

More than two million annual visitors are drawn to the island by tourist inducements, including the pristine white sands of Seven Mile Beach, more than 200 dive sites teeming with marine life and Stingray City, where guests can swim with the briny creatures. George Town, the island’s cosmopolitan capital city, offers fine dining and shopping galore. All this and more are set against a near-perfect climate.

Close encounters

One of the main island’s most popular tourist attractions, the Cayman Turtle Farm, is the largest facility of its kind in the world. It is home to more than 8,000 turtles ranging in size from tiny 6-ounce babies to a massive female named “Sparky.” She weighs in at 565 pounds.

Located on the island’s West Bay, the interactive, marine-themed park spans nearly 23 acres. It’s the only place in the world where sea turtles can be observed through their entire life cycle — and where different species, including 9- to 18-month-old juveniles, can be picked up, cuddled and photographed. Bigger ones, ages three to nine years, are caught on camera at close range. Visitors are also invited to swim with the shelled reptiles.

It’s not all just fun and games at the turtle farm, though. The internationally renowned research and conservation center is dedicated to developing and preserving the indigenous green sea turtle species by providing local markets with a safe source of edible turtle meat. This helps to discourage hunting in the wild. The center also releases tens of thousands of new hatchlings and yearlings into local waters to help grow the population.

With our 10-year-old grandson, Bryson, in tow, we began our aquatic exploration at the breeding pond. His first encounter was with a green sea turtle, a species that has been around since the age of the dinosaurs. Other gleeful visitors to the touch tanks, each holding a squiggling yearling turtle with its fins flapping, smiled for the surrounding paparazzi of friends and family.

One of the largest freshwater swimming pools in the Cayman Islands can be found at the Turtle Farm’s Breakers Lagoon. We joined several other guests for a chance to snorkel (with lifeguards in attendance) in the nearby Boatswain’s saltwater lagoon, which is stocked with thousands of colorful reef fish and yearling turtles. In both lagoons, you can swim right up to underwater viewing panels, nose-to-nose with sharks and other marauders in the predator reef. The great barracuda, “Houdini,” slipped by right in front of our eyes.

Birds of a feather

The farm’s Caribbean Aviary is home to a variety of colorful parrots, the national bird of the Cayman Islands. Vibrantly hued scarlet ibis and some of its fine, feathered friends wander freely about the grounds and into a tiny wading pool surrounded by indigenous flora. The gently rippling water created by their elegant elongated beaks created a picture-perfect scene.

Hidden at the back of the park, the Blue Hole Nature Trail loops through an evergreen woodland and along a miniature, native-orchid garden, a butterfly garden and a mahogany grove, all amid a flashing kaleidoscope of colorful native birds.

At the Schooner’s Bar and Grill overlooking Boatswain’s Lagoon, diners watch

local chefs preparing traditional island specialties such as conch, shrimp,  jerk chicken — and, yes, if you’re up to it — a variety of turtle dishes, including the favored turtle soup.

For more on this story go to:

http://www.daily-journal.com/life/travel/let-s-go-grand-cayman-islands/article_07eceedd-7043-5a1e-ab9e-fd3b845a88a4.html?mode=jqm

 

 

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