DESTINATION by gjjur4356


 Alexander Bevan

                             GRAND CAYMAN ISLAND

54 THE NEWCANADIANMAGAZINE                    WINTER2004/2005
Photos: Alexander Bevan

                                                  “Slap me pink and bruise me purple,” says Bob Lheman,
                                            driving his open-top Jeep through the streets of George Town,
                                            Grand Cayman Island. “You gotta give it to the Brits, they sure
                                            know how to pick their islands.” An off-colour remark from a
                                            colourful American, yet you’d be hard pressed to disagree. With
                                            endless white beaches, clear blue skies and clearer blue waters,
                                            the Cayman Islands—a British Overseas Territory that consists
                                            of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac—have
                                            everything a tropical destination needs. And each is enjoyed in
                                            decisively British fashion: You can drive on the left, enjoy a
                                            cricket match or tuck in to a generous offering of fish and chips
                                            accompanied by a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale. Lheman opts
                                            for the un-British comforts of the Hard Rock Cafe and drops me
                                            in the heart of George Town with a friendly wave and prophetic
                                            jeer, “Trust me, you’ll never want to leave.”
                                                  Indeed, there’s an undeniable attraction to Grand
                                            Cayman, the largest of the three islands, that makes living the
                                            permanent island dream almost plausible. It’s clean and
                                            modern with a high standard of living, and boasts a tropical
                                            island characteristic that is the envy of tourist boards from
                                            Puerto Rico to Trinidad and Tobago: It’s safe. In fact, next to
                                            Cuba, the Cayman Islands are the safest and friendliest tourist
                                            destination in the Caribbean. With a population of slightly
                                            more than 43,000, there’s virtually no crime outside of petty
                                            thefts, pickpocketing and purse snatchings.
                                                  Ask any local and you soon discover diving is a selling
                                            feature that gives the island its true calling. I prefer to find out
                                            for myself and set about George Town in search of Eden Rock, a
                                            top-rated dive and snorkel spot touted in all the guidebooks. It
                                            doesn’t take long to find—it is often said that you can travel
                                            between any two points on Grand Cayman within 45 minutes.
                                            Before the hordes of cruise ship passengers descend on George
                                            Town’s tiny port, I’m looking through crystal clear water at the
                                            endless nooks and crannies bursting with fish. There’s no
                                            charge to snorkel here and a locker for your belongings is a mere
                                            US$5. If you’re patient enough, you’re sure to encounter Steve,
                                            a larger than life tarpon that lurks close to shore—when
                                            everyone’s Uncle John remarks, “I caught a fish this big,” with

                          WINTER2004/2005                                              THE NEWCANADIANMAGAZINE   55
                                                                                                             w w w . n e w c a n a d i a n . c o m

              arms outstretched at the dinner table, this is the fish he’s       textbook definition of “cutesy” as you can get. It’s a short drive
              referring to. And believe me, he definitely got away!              from George Town, and within minutes, I pull off to the desig-
                   The best thing—or possibly the worst, depending on your       nated parking area, take in the lush surroundings and don my
              perspective—about George Town, I learned, is Seven Mile            Eden-damp snorkel booties for a quick look-see beneath the
              Beach. Contrary to its namesake, this 5.5-mile stretch hosts a     surface—I’ve only got a few days on an island of a thousand dis-
              bastion of expensive hotels, fast food outlets and the standard    coveries. By the time I come topside again, I’ve counted two bar-
              fare of tourist traps. It’s a pleasant enough strip for the all-   racudas, a small gathering of squid and a tiny grey stingray that
              inclusive crowd, but might not appeal to travellers seeking a      I followed as far as my flippers would take me and until the
              more authentic Caymanian getaway. As such, the feel of Seven       shoreline began to feel eerily distant. In a curious way, the
              Mile Beach is somewhat artificial and speaks to the throngs of     turquoise waters that surround Grand Cayman sum up the far-
              jet-setters who hunker down with their oversized beach towels      reaching allure of the island: the coral reefs, the abundance of
              for a week’s worth of pampering and indulgence before flying       underwater life and that ever-present feeling that perhaps,
              home on first-class tickets. If anything, Seven Mile Beach is a    believer or not, a higher power had a hand in all of this. As I
              playground that caters to predictability. But, as many tourists    remove my flippers next to a giant sea grape tree, I overhear a
              assert, there’s nothing wrong with peace of mind.                  well-spoken local extolling the cove’s calculated beauty to a
                   I’ve rented a modest Jeep from Andy’s Car Rentals, which      pasty-white English woman, “as though Mother Nature had
              I’m told has the best prices on the island, and ever the con-      carved out a niche just for herself.” I couldn’t agree more.
              formist, I opt for right-hand drive—Grand Cayman follows the             Not surprisingly, there’s a breathtaking road that hugs the
              British tradition of driving on the left and having the steering   coastline for most of the island and I enthusiastically set off in
              wheel on the right. After several embarrassing stalls and a few    my Jeep with the top down. It’s hot—Cayman hot. The sun
              gear grinds, I’m on South Church Street driving toward Smith’s     smothers the road with its midday heat and the road sweats it
              Cove, a quiet enclave whose natural beauty is as close to the      right back. By the time I cross Bodden Town, the first capital of

              56 THE NEWCANADIANMAGAZINE                                                                                              WINTER2004/2005
                          w w w . n e w c a n a d i a n . c o m

                          Grand Cayman, the top is back up. I follow the scenic route,
                          lined with millionaire homes and postcard views, until reaching
                          Rum Point on the North Side, an exclusive neighbourhood of
Photos: Alexander Bevan

                          high-end condominiums, private villas and a tree-shaded white
                          sand beach where the island’s who’s who gather for cool drinks
                          and a slice of paradise. Travel a little further to Cayman Kai and
                          you reach Grand Cayman’s tip. It’s where you’ll find Jesus
                          waiting with open arms—a lifelike statue oddly out of place,
                          basking in the Caribbean sunshine and in striking contrast to
                          the breeze-blown palms and whitecapped Caribbean
                          backdrop—at the end of a dead-end road lined with towering
                          columns. Stop for a moment and you can’t help but feel mildly
                          spiritual. Stop for a while and you’re born again. For an island
                          as small as Grand Cayman, it’s the most public of private
                          retreats. It might not be the snorkel crowd’s favourite spot, but
                          sun lizards appreciate the peace and quiet.
                               By mid-afternoon, I’ve had my fill of endless blue and
                          yearn for greener pastures. I powwow with a local resident
                          who, sensing my need for something off the beaten path,
                          suggests a U-turn back past George Town and on to West Bay
                          for a glimpse of daily Cayman life. But once there, I’m warned,                      SHOW ME THE MONEY!
                          “you will get lost.” Needless to say, I shrug him off with a self-
                          assuring air of map-reading superiority and a healthy dose of         Mention the Cayman Islands and the first thing that comes to
                          male bravado. Less than 40 minutes later, I reach George Town         mind for most people is offshore banking, followed by a pre-
                          in time to witness a group of bag-toting cruise ship passengers       dictable “wink wink, nudge nudge.” Indeed, for years, the
                          being herded aboard a crowded water taxi back to their                Cayman Islands have provided a tax haven for many question-
                          Carnival or Princess ship and its seven-course meal service. I        able businesses. In fact, there are more than 30,000 business-
                          can’t help but feel jealous of the fact that when the sun rises       es incorporated in the Cayman Islands, many of which have
                          again, they’ll wake to something different: another island, a         only a plaque on the wall to indicate their existence. It should
                          bustling port of call, a new horizon.                                 come as no surprise, then, that Grand Cayman Island is the
                               I don’t realize that I’m deep in the heart of West Bay until     fifth largest financial centre in the world, with more than 500
                          I’m completely lost—the change in scenery as the posh houses          licensed banks, including Scotiabank, Royal Bank of Canada
                          give way to the smaller, nondescript buildings is gradual and         and CIBC.
                          imperceptible. Street names on the map no longer correspond to                  What is surprising is the ongoing crackdown in the
                          the sun-bleached lettering on wooden street markers and the           fight against illegal banking practices. Thanks in part to a
                          usually straight road has given way to a maze of winding side         tough crackdown from U.S. banking and drug enforcement
                          roads that only the locals can find their way out of. As I explore    authorities, and also to pressure from the British Central
                          and backtrack for over half an hour and watch the gas gauge           Bank, things are becoming squeaky clean in George Town.
                          dwindle close to empty, I begin to feel the shame of getting lost     Legislation was enacted in 2000 and 2001 requiring bank
                          good and proper, and with the sun low on the horizon, I decide        account owners—corporate or individual—to complete page
                          the prospect of negotiating the maze after dark is not for me and     after page of documentation about the origins of their funds.
                          my foolish pride and begin to look for help. Then I notice a bus      So, although Grand Cayman Island remains a major centre
                          that seems to be heading away from the setting sun and follow         for the offshore financial industry, its days as a money shelter
                          it through the meandering streets until, like an airplane             may well be numbered.
                          breaking through a thin layer of cloud, I simply pop out of the                 According to the Cayman Islands Chamber of
                          maze and back onto the main road into George Town.                    Commerce, the following is just some of the information
                          Apparently, the road less travelled is less travelled for a reason.   required to open a personal account:
                               As the sun sets, George Town is uncrowded and unpreten-          • An original financial reference addressed to the bank, indi-
                          tious. Not only are the cruise ships gone, but the shops are all      cating a satisfactory relationship of more than three years
                          closed. Here, nightlife is laid-back: a meal in one of the many       and quoting approximate average balances maintained
                          restaurants, overpriced drinks on an open terrace, a romantic         during the past six months
                          stroll by the water’s edge. The streets are friendly and the atmos-   • Details regarding the purpose of the account
                          phere is decisively low-key. The only noise you’re likely to          • The nature and dollar volume of anticipated transactions
                          encounter is from the distant jet wash of an arriving Cayman          through the account, including the source of funding of
                          Airways flight from Owen Roberts International Airport—               initial and subsequent deposits
                          lucky visitors getting their taste of paradise.

                          WINTER2004/2005                                                                                               THE NEWCANADIANMAGAZINE   57

To top