[The pictures here are primarily taken by Barb, with a few contributions from Katie, John, Bekah, Gail and Rachel. If you just want to look at more pictures without the trip log part, Barb's are posted here, Bekah's here and Katie's are here. Bekah's and Katie's also include some awesome underwater snorkeling and diving pictures.]
We left Minneapolis in the cold, cold, cold on Saturday Jan 17. There are 8 of us this year - Barb, John, Katie, Dave, Bekah, Gail, Rachel and Mary. We rented a beach house for the week up on the north side of the island (the "quiet" side). It is appropriately named No Snow. (Road view to the right. One view from back porch on left!) It is listed with several agencies but we rented through Villas Caribe and were very pleased with their service as well as with No Snow. It is very well equipped and nicely furnished. The pictures on the web were accurate and we were delighted with the "extras" (like lots of books, games, beach towels, even some snorkeling equipment). And both wired and wireless internet were available for the compulsives in the group who brought computers.
The plane was approximately on time; getting through customs was quick and easy. And then we faced the first challenge - driving on the "wrong" side of the car and the "wrong" side of the road! Actually it wasn't bad once we got used to it but it was hard that first day navigating unknown territory and then in the dark. (Our cute little Daihatsu Charade is parked in front of No Snow in the picture above.)
The first stops were the liquor store (beer and rum) and the grocery store. The other two cars stopped at the Foster's Food Fair right there by the airport but it was VERY crowded and I wanted to get out of the city before dark, so we drove to Savannah (roughly 20 minutes from the airport) and shopped at the Foster's there. The exchange rate is a fixed rate where CI$1 = US$1.25 and the US dollar and credit cards were accepted everywhere we went. You get change back in CI dollars, but it was certainly easier than having to exchange money or visit an ATM. Food cost more than we are used to at home, but it wasn't awful. We did a good job of initial shopping and only had to run down to Chisholms (the very pleasant little convenience store near our house) for a couple of things during the week.
Before leaving the shopping center, we stopped in MacDonalds (not the golden arches variety) for some take out dinner then trekked on up to Northside. It was dark by the time we got there but Katie and Dave kindly stood out front watching for us!
Sunday January 18: We woke to a windy, cloudy day. But it was warm! And by the time we finished breakfast, the clouds had blown away and it was glorious! To the right are Bekah and Mary going "ahhhh" on the back porch the first afternoon. And on left is all of us collected on the porch. [Standing: Bekah, Gail, Dave, Barb; sitting John, Katie, Rachel, Mary]
Below is a view from inside the house and a couple more pictures of what we got to look at all week from the porch or the sand!
I sat around for the rest of the day on the porch and on the beach, sunning and reading. Katie, John and Bekah snorkeled. They saw a big lobster, a ray (Bekah's picture at left), squirrel fish and other more common critters. They were quite satisfied. The lobster, who apparently lived under a very specific rock, was subsequently named "George" and Katie declared she could no longer enjoy a lobster dinner, having made friends with George.
Bekah, Mary and Rachel walked up to Rum Point after lunch (Bekah posing on right with the barrels), had a rum punch, visited the gift shop.
We had our one special night out to dinner at Kaibo Upstairs tonight. Below left is a picture taken from our table on the covered deck. I had the pasta primavera with basil sauce and shrimp; others had scallops, snapper, chicken and steak; we shared 4 appetizers and 4 desserts. Good food, good service. Certainly over our normal budget, but since we mostly cooked "in" all week we had planned one splurge.
This is a delightful place to spend a week: it's quiet (all the "action" is over on Seven Mile Beach far from here), lots of sun, good snorkeling and beachcombing right outside our door. Ahhh.
Monday January 19 - Another perfect day in paradise. I sat in the sun on the porch through breakfast and reading. John, Katie and Gail snorkeled - one of the delights of this location is being able to just walk out into the sea whenever you feel like it and see interesting things. At right Katie and John are finding things to see before they even get their fins on!
I had my leftover dinner for lunch then went up to Rum Point with John. He had a jerk cheeseburger at the Wreck Bar and I had a strawberry smoothie. It was a weekday and no cruise ship groups so peaceful and pleasant. The water seems clearer there because they clean out the seagrass so it's all sand. But since it is all sandy, there are no good fish and critter habitats except under the dock. I did see a lot of pipefish right off the dock. (Pictures below taken from Rum Point beach.)
Dave and Bekah did a dive off the east end with Red Sail Sports this afternoon. Rachel and Mary drove with them and hung at Morritt's. John and I tried playing with the boomerang, not very successfully; then we moved on to frisbee (right) which was much more rewarding once we figured out how to adjust for the breezes. Good exercise.
Bekah, Mary and Rachel made us a wonderful dinner tonight - steak, chicken, fish and potatoes from the grill; brocolli and rice. And rum punch. Lots of rum punch. We all enjoyed it thoroughly!
Here are a few "hanging around in the evening" pictures. Katie saying "Oh this is so embarrassing to be caught on the computer on vacation;" Bekah and Rachel doing "girl talk" on the front porch; Gail in conversation.
Tuesday January 20 - After breakfast, Barb, John and Gail went off to explore the Mastic Trail. This trail is owned, administered and protected by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, whose mission is "To preserve natural environments for present and future generations of the Cayman Islands." It was originally an old footpath; 100 years ago it was the major thoroughfare through the center of the island. Now it is just a trail through a large area of undeveloped land - enabling visitors to experience "native" Cayman Island and helping the National Trust to "safeguard the survival of the diversity of native wild plants and animals on these islands." To the right above is a rather typical view of the undisturbed environment - the reddish tree on the right side of that picture is a Gumbo-limbo tree, also known as the "tourist tree" because of its red and peeling bark! The trail is about 2 miles long - we covered most of it but since it's not a loop, we had to hike back to where we left the car.
Starting out, it was a little hard to find. Although both ends of the trail are labeled clearly from the main roads, the access road (we used the south end off of Frank Sound Road) seems to end. Well, no, it only SEEMS to end - if you keep left and keep going around the potholes as best you can, you eventually come to the trailhead and small parking area. We saw loads of bromeliads, including (above left) the National Flower of the Cayman Islands, the wild banana orchid, though it doesn't bloom until late spring. To the right is Gail (with John in the background) on a bridge over some of the wetlands.
Some of our fauna finds are shown below: Zenaida doves (left), a soldier crab (right), parrots (below left, who carried on noisily as we walked by), numerous lizards/geckos (below, center), butterflies (White Peacock below right). We also saw other songbirds (including a Vitelline warbler), a snake, lots more bromeliads and various kinds of palm. It wasn't spectacular but was a good hike and interesting to see some of the native, uncultivated area.
I determined that it was time for me to get wet. Naturally, about 10 minutes after I went out to swim, a huge dark cloud came by and it started to rain. But it passed quickly and left one of the most beautiful rainbows I've ever seen. The pictures below don't do it justice, so you'll just have to trust me on that. I'll only share two here - one that Gail took of John and me, and the one on the right that shows both of the rainbows, with the lighter one above the first.
Katie, Dave, Gail, John and I went to Over the Edge for supper - it's a small restaurant/ bar in Northside that gets mixed reviews. I think it has a wonderful sea view during the day but it wasn't notable at night. The food was mostly good - I had grilled mahi-mahi which was great; John and Dave had wahoo steaks that they both liked; Katie and Gail had snapper with a dill sauce. Fortunately, the sauce came on the side because they both thought it tasted "off." They thought it might just be a type of dill sauce they've never had, but they decided to pass on it and agreed that the fish itself was very good.
Wednesday January 21 - we woke up to wind and rain. The rain passed quickly but the wind blew all day. Other than that it was a beautiful day, though. I sat on the porch in the sun (with my back to the wind) for most of the morning. John's fun find while beachcombing this morning is the crab at left. It seems somewhat unusual, in our experience, for these guys to be out during the day, but this one had caught a hermit crab and was determined to drag it home - presumably for lunch. In any case, he wasn't willing to abandon it and took a brave stand even against this large interloper and his camera.
I made a big chicken salad to share for lunch then we split up for the afternoon. Dave (right - Bekah took this picture Monday when they dove together) did a 2-tank dive in the morning and just "hung around" for the afternoon; Bekah, Mary and Rachel explored the beach and found fun things like chiton (left), snails (center), crabs (an empty shell on the right), and hermit crabs.
John, Katie, Gail and I set off to drive around to the east side of the island. We stopped first on the north side at a little pull-off near Old Man's Bay and found a "shoe tree" (left). There must be a story to this but we don't know what it is. It's just an old driftwood tree decorated with lots of shoes and a few shells. John filled his bag with rocks, wood and shells and we took a lot of pictures. The picture to the right will illustrate how "rich" the beachcombing is along here - lots of conch shells and other good specimens just lying around! It was hard to not want them all.
Then we drove on around the curve and stopped at another small public area where we watched some windsurfers (left below) while we beachcombed for a bit. After a quick stop at a convenience store for water and snack, we found the Ten Sails Wreck park and monument. In the center is a picture of a Yellow Bell (I think it may be the "Gold Star Esperanza" variety but I'm not sure). This was a huge bush growing in the park there and is one of my favorite new plants. On the right Gail captured us posing with the actual monument. The views were lovely.
We were looking for the blowholes but there was some major construction on the sea wall right at that point and we missed them. We made one more stop at Heritage Beach along Frank Sound (right). There was much less wind on the south side of the island but we didn't find it particularly attractive for swimming or snorkeling. I think we are spoiled.
When we got back I wandered our beach for a while and took pictures of some of the interesting creatures around the rocks. Bekah, Mary, Rachel and Dave went to the Kaibo beach bar for supper. They liked the food, had a good time and said it wasn't too windy back in the bar area. The rest of us just scavenged leftovers (there are plenty) and ate in.
Thursday January 22 This morning was even more blustery than yesterday, but out of the wind it was quite pleasant. I walked down to Rum Point before breakfast (and observed the disappearance of the rum barrel sign). After breakfast, Bekah, Rachel and Mary went off to GeorgeTown for another shopping expedition and Katie, Dave, Gail, John and I went to the Botanic Park. The park was awesome.
The Botanic Park is also a wildlife refuge for the Cayman Blue Iguana. At left John and I are posing with the statue of the blue iguana in front of the visitor center. We saw several real ones though - 2 in their fenced, restricted habitat and 2 wandering around the park. The one known as "3 Blue" (from her identifying beads) meets Mr. Penguin at the right. She was not the least concerned about us but was fairly interested in Mr. P. When she discovered he didn't seem edible, though, she went back to her plants.
We saw lots of parrots, some geckos, 2 snakes, a turtle, some moorhens, other birds and loads of amazing plants and butterflies, most of which we haven't identified yet. The Colour Garden was especially wonderful. Here's just a little taste of some the things we saw.
You can't really tell from the picture, but in the last one, those poinsettias were just covered with small orange butterflies It was quite remarkable. Back at No Snow, I made a quick trip to starfish beach (Ivory Sands) to watch the sunset while John made chili and guacamole with chips for supper. It wasn't an exceptional sunset but I took pictures anyway and vowed to come back the next night and try again.
Friday January 23 - Another windy day, but still nice. I sat out on the porch and beach all morning. Sun, sun, sun. (Maybe I should clarify that I use sunscreen liberally and came home as pale as I left. But I do enjoy baking in it!) Katie, Gail, John and Bekah snorkeled. Rachel and Mary walked the beach (below left) - Rachel must have extra sharp eyes: she found an octopus close enough to the shore to wade in and take its picture (center). Even knowing what I'm looking at, it's still hard to see!
John spent some time sorting through his beachcombing collection (below right) and figuring out which treasures had to come home with him.
After lunch Bekah, Rachel and Mary went to the Rum Point Beach for the afternoon and reported that the wind was much calmer there. Dave did another dive in the morning, then hung out with the gang at Rum Point for a while before getting some snorkeling in this afternoon. John and I took a long walk down the beach. We saw some crabs, pipefish, assorted mollusks and birds. Interestingly, there is a dearth of sea birds here which surprised us. Today I finally saw what I think are a pair of plovers (left). The closest I can come to the darker one is a Wilson's Plover and the lighter one is very similar to pictures I found of the female - so I'm going to go with that guess until I am corrected!
I found some curry powder that a previous resident had left and used up most of the leftovers to create a curry for supper. While it was simmering, Dave, Rachel and I made a quick trip down to the point for the sunset (right), which was much nicer than last night. Translated, that means the clouds were in better places!
Later in the evening, John took me out crab-hunting in the dark. These are the ones that belong to the "crab holes" (example at left) all along the beach and, at night, if you are stealthy enough and pull out the flashlight at just the right moment, you can catch them scurrying around. On the right below is one that we startled.
Saturday January 24 Our last day. Sigh. Mostly I just slurped up as much sun as I could. Katie, Bekah, Gail, John and Dave each snorkeled. (Katie and Dave below left getting their last snorkel fix for a while.) We used up as much food as we could for lunch and set off for the airport around 1:30. (We had permission from the property manager to stay past the check out time since our plane didn't leave until late afternoon.) The car rental offices were swamped with batches of people arriving so returning the cars took a while, but checking in and going through security was smooth. Everybody used up their Cayman dollars on beer, snacks or souvenirs and the plane took off and arrived in the frigid north just about on time.
Sunday January 25 - While "vacation" was technically over yesterday, we all spent the night at Katie and Dave's Saturday night and then (except Gail who had to leave early) went for dim sum Sunday brunch at Jun Bo. It's on Nicollet at 77th (just north of I-494) and won the City Pages' "Best dim sum of 2008" award. Yep - very yummy and a fun way to end our week.
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