The Cayman Islands

The return to civilisation as we know it. Our first dinner in the Caymans is fairly representative of our feelings. We went to a 50's themed diner and spent an age pouring over the extensive, delicious and expensive menu before eventually alighting on some options, all of which turned out to be available and as described. I ordered a virgin raspberry colada which was as manly and pink as one would expect. While waiting for the meal to arrive we found ourselves in a particularly good mood. We had missed the ease of life. Being understood (apart from our accent), understanding what everyone else was saying, no haggling, no fuss, huge expense. Even the money was colourful and had the Queen on the back! We were sad to leave Cuba and the latin american chapter of our holiday however we were also ready to relax a bit.

Stingray city, a sandbar where the stingrays have been training humans to come and feed them squid for over 50 years.

We stayed in a lovely B&B where we had a delicious breakfast each morning before we went on the days activities which usually revolved around snorkelling, our newfound love since Galapagos. The waters are clear and warm, the beach white and fine. The fish were huge, some the size of sharks and rather intimidating when they approached wondering if we had food (or perhaps, were food). A sea trampoline provided fun as we worked out how to climb up it and then felt drunk as we tried to bounce on a surface that shifts on the water underneath us. We got to see Conch crawling around the ocean floor (shy little fellas) and some squid we thought might have been doing a mating dance but were perhaps a bit too shy to finish it with us watching. Tiny, glowing fish, one of whom adopted Shan and followed her around wherever we went.

The owners of the bed and breakfast were also involved in one of the tour boats that went out to see stingrays. We took their boat to the sandbar and jumped off into the waist deep water. The stingrays are used to people around here and would come and brush up against your legs for attention. The rays have been named by the tour guides including Pizza Slice (who looked like he'd met with a boat engine earlier in life) and our favourite, Stumpy, who had a short stinger and was very pregnant. We got to hold her and look at the bulging pouch on the top of her body where the baby stingrays were growing. Shannan had, by this time, thrown her childhood phobia to the wind and gave Stumpy a goodbye kiss. I fed them some squid, holding it out and waiting for one to 'sniff' it out and come over the top with a strong vacuum cleaner suction to pick it up from my hand. One of our fellow tourists screamed out in frantic surprise as this same vacuum cleaner ability was used on his leg leaving him with the greatest hickey I've ever seen!

One of the most amazing experiences of the whole trip was the bioluminescent tour we did in the darkness of a new moon. The boat took us out to a harbour (actually peoples backyard, their houses surrounding the bay). We put on our snorkel gear and I was first off the boat. As I climbed down the ladder into the water my foot started to glow an eerie blue colour. Everywhere I moved in the water there was beautiful blue light trailing me. The others on the boat stopped to watch as I went deeper before hustling to get into the water themselves. It was even more amazing once in the water. In the blackness I moved my hands in front of the snorkel goggles. Moving slow made tiny blue dots appear, outlining my hand and even the hairs on the back of my hand. Moving faster activated more lights blurring together and creating a bright blue stream of plasma. It was like being in our own sci-fi movie.

The glow is caused by bioluminescent microscopic organisms. They are present throughout the oceans, often churned up by the wake of large ships. The bay provides the perfect conditions for these tiny creatures with it's high salinity, warmth and nutrients from nearby mangroves. They are present here in a concentration many thousands of times higher than the open ocean.

Shannan and I are now throwing plasma balls at each other in the water. As our eyes grow more accustomed to the low light we can see things beneath us in the water. Fish dart in and out of sight as they move and go still. We found a lobster crawling around with it's spindly legs being outlined as it plods along the floor.

Shannan makes a bioluminescent angel

I climbed back onto the boat to get a photo of Shannan making a bioluminescent angel. The low light conditions make it very hard to capture this effect on camera. Other tourists are incurring my wrath by using their flash, destroying night vision and capturing a photo of people in water (the dim blue glow drowned out to invisibility by the bright flash). I settle for smug satisfaction as I get the photo I'm after.

There are only 12 places in the world that the conditions are right for the bioluminescent organisms to exist at such a high concentration. If you ever have the opportunity to do a tour like this make sure you take it, and make sure you go for a swim. There was also a kayak tour that went through the same area but I doubt they had anything near such an amazing experience as we did actually swimming in the water.

The Cayman Islands lent itself well to having a car. It turned out we could hire a car for two days and save a fortune. $25 per day for the car as opposed to $40 for a return bus trip to see the far side of the island (ouch!) and about $25 for the short taxi ride back to the airport (ouch!). So we got a set of wheels and finished off our Cayman experience checking out various snorkel points around the island. This was my first time driving on the Queen's side of the road in over 17,000 kms.

Our final night in the Caribbean we caught a catamaran across the bay to a beachside BBQ and recovery on the deck chairs. Goodbye tropics, you will be missed!