Speaking of being dumb and speaking of being lucky and speaking of how sometimes those two can go hand in hand, I write today from a beach chair in Miami, stranded as I am by winter storm Jonas. In this situation the dumb and the lucky came together for some old fashioned dumb luck.
When Jonas began making headlines last week and airlines loosened their generally strict travel change fees, we made a few efforts to reroute our way home from Cayman Brac, to no avail. Then when, on the eve of travel, our flights were cancelled we enjoyed a last relaxing night listening to the soothing sounds of waves crashing, palm trees rustling, and the United Airlines hold music serenading. After 10 hours on hold, a dropped call mid-rebooking, and the remainder of our island beer supply, we decided the best option was sleep and a redoubled effort in person at the airport.
And as luck would have it, we managed to hop on the next flight to Miami where family opened arms, doors, and refrigerators for our three day layover. Thank you dumb luck for a few more days of sunsets, local sites, lounge chairs, hot days, and cool nights.
But before we got to Miami, my new passport received it’s inaugural stamp, ushering in the next decade of world travel, adventure, and fortunate mishaps. So, taking a pause in our regularly scheduled program, let me introduce to you Cayman Brac.
What a deliciously wild windswept rock of an island, breaking through the warm turquoise blues of the Caribbean Sea. Sitting 90 miles east of the resort-laden cruise Mecca of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac offers the ultimate juxtaposition of nature, quiet, and solitude. Just 11 miles long the Brac is home to 1500 residents and as many wild chickens continually offering new reasons to cross the road.
To get to the wild mango tree.
To avoid becoming local jerk chicken on the grill.
To get in the way of the confused tourist driving on the wrong side of the road.
To have a natter with his friend the Brac Parrot.
Just so many reasons to cross the road here.
Where Grand Cayman is your ultimate beach destination with lobster pink tourists slathered in sunscreen and sipping fruity cocktails while worshipping the sun gods, Cayman Brac offers a myriad of more interesting alternatives to sitting and sunning.
Gaelic for “bluff,” thusly named for the towering wall standing watch over the eastern half of the island. This wonder of nature turns an otherwise tropical island haven into a dream of hiking, climbing, caving, and bird watching.
The bluff can only be described as lunar. Sort of like exploring the surface of the moon as the Caribbean sea crashes below, the equatorial sun beats above, and the ocean winds pull at your hair and your clothes from all sides. One false step and the cheese grater rocks would shred your poor shin bones to bits.
The bluff and it’s wild conditions provide an open air shelter for a nesting population of brown booby birds who cling to the cliff side and hurtle down towards their fishing ground waiting 150 feet below.
I developed quite a soft spot for sea birds after many months living on a tiny island in the Seychelles that is designated by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area due to its nesting sea birds and endemic land birds. Having only ever encountered one booby bird previously, which was blown far off course during a storm in the Seychelles, I was overwhelmed to see these birds traveling and fishing and parenting en masse.
The swooping and the soaring and the gliding and the climbing and the falling and the diving and every tiny wavering movement with the wind. Poetry in motion as they flaunt that superpower that we all so wish for. The gift of flight. To fly. Soaring and plunging and bounding through tropical seascapes.
Oh to be a sea bird.
A white tail tropicbird.
A bridled tern.
A brown noddy.
But not a frigatebird.
Never a frigatebird.
The pirates of the sky. Blocking out the sun with their monsterous wingspan. An expanse of threatening black feathers, cruising low over their next victims with John Williams’ Imperial March heralding their every move.
Or, maybe that’s just me hearing things.
Considered a kleptoparasite, frigatebirds often find their next meal by stalking a nesting area and harassing smaller seabird parents who are returning from sea with food for their young. Badgering the successful parents until they are forced to drop their hard earned sustenance, frigatebirds lie and steal and cheat and probably swear too.
So, with the active brown booby nesting ground also comes the aerial antics of the frigatebird. Menacing in every move, mascots of the Empire, Darth Vader would have been proud.
Add to that an endemic parrot population clad in bright greens and accents of red flitting through a nature preserve accompanied by a few lovely warblers and song birds and this little spit of land is a birder’s paradise.
And then there are the caves.
Caves rumored to hide treasure deep within.
Chasms cutting into those towering bluffs.
Laced with the local caymanite, an uncommon variety of dolostone used as a semiprecious stone, they open like mouths on the cliffside and lead into the belly of the island. On and on and deeper than we dared venture.
As a small island in the Caribbean Sea, Cayman Brac has encountered several highly destructive hurricanes, forcing many of it’s local population to shutter homes and seek protection in these caves. A lone toilet seat perched on a wooden box tucked in a discreet corner of one of the bigger caves hints at the long days and nights spent huddled against raging tropical storms.
I feel like I am forgetting something. I know its there, just on the tip of my tongue.
How could I forget the diving.
I missed diving. Oh I missed it so.
The remarkable freedom of breathing underwater. The comfort of drifting through currents, neutrally bouyant and effortlessly suspended in the water column. It is, to me, the most peaceful place on earth. I missed the forced quiet and detachment from technology for a few hours everyday. I missed controlling my every motion with the slightest inhale or exhale of breath. I missed just existing.
It had been too long and I feared if I didn’t get my feet wet again soon, I might just shrivel up and waste away. And so we went in search of some water.
After all that time working in the Seychelles my bar is pretty high but these waters veritably burst with color and life and activity that boasted of reef health. For now at least. The reefs were crusted with corals and sponges offering homes for fish of all size. Groupers followed divers like puppies while the invasive lionfish flashed their poisonous spines before being speared for lunch. Sharks and rays and hawksbill turtles abound.
It was like coming home.
The Cayman Islands are known for their impressive and towering wall dives. With life overflowing on one side and the great Caribbean blue reaching out indefinitely on the other, walls offer a great opportunity to spot creatures of every size and shape above, below, and all around. From spiny lobsters to active reef sharks, its all there.
Cayman Brac, more specifically, draws divers for the M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts, a 100 meter long Russian koni-class frigate wreck. Built by the Soviet Union in 1984 for the Cuban Navy and then eventually sold to the Caymans who renamed it after a prominent politician and scuttled it in 1996 for an artificial reef, this wreck is the only Russian warship that divers can explore in the Western Hemisphere.
The gun turrets still stand at attention, now housing an entirely different type of shell. After nearly 20 years of growth, vibrant orange and green sponges protrude in all directions while coral crusts the decks that soldiers boots used to trace on guard rotations. Colorful fish and narrow-waisted divers explore the guts of the wreck, which is littered with debris and other lurking creatures.
All this opportunity for adventure and the days fell into a natural rhythm. Busy mornings bled into sun drenched afternoons followed by late lunches and shaded siestas then lazy dinners on our beachfront patio. The partly cloudy skies brought sunsets to amaze and the cool sea breezes lulled our nicely crisped bodies to sleep.
Overall, this journey, stranding in Miami included, has been ideal.
We chose Cayman Brac because after a period of work and life difficulties, we wanted somewhere easy but different. The exchange rate is consistent, transportation is straightforward, English flows easily, and safety is not an issue. But, what we found on our little island was not just these perks of simplicity but beauty and calm, adventure and activity, lilting Caribbean accents with delicious local flare. It all culminated to make us feel a bit further from home than we actually were.
It was easy travel. Yes, it was easy travel to be certain. Easier by far than the travel I have blogged about previously. But I tell you, it was more than easy. It was also uniquely inspired.
Sound nice? Hear more about the Seychelles, where the inspiration all began, same time next week…