Grand Cayman July 1998

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Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, July 1998

The Cayman Islands are a British Crown Colony State, meaning that, basically, they are owned by the British. The interesting thing to note is that United States and Canadian residents may visit with only a drivers license and a birth certificate. British subjects are required to have a visa for entry. Weird. Another odd thing to note is the local currency. Yes, the Cayman islands have their own currency, with an exchange rate defined as $1.20 US = $1.00 Cayman. This exchange rate is not based on the local economy, import/export relationships, or any of the usual international exchange rate criteria. It is simply defined as $1.20 USD. Weird.

The Cayman Islands are a set of three located south of Cuba and west of Jamaica. In geomorphological terms, the Cayman Islands are mountain peaks located along the Cayman Ridge. To the north of this ridge is the Yucatan Basin and to the south is the Cayman Trench extending to a depth of 25,000+ feet. It is due to the location of these island peaks that give the Cayman's their famous walls and dropoffs down into the deep blue. Needless to say, the diving is excellent and worth visiting is you have never been before. There are several book about the diving on the island, and I would recommend "Cayman Diver's Guide" by Shlomo & Roni Cohen, ISBN: 965-362-0053. The classic Pisces or AquaQuest series books are okay as well, but do not go into the geographical detail of the dive sites like "Cayman Diver's Guide" does.

The island of Grand Cayman itself is a nice place. The drinking water is good, the food is tasty, and everything is expensive. Be careful when using credit cards - cashiers will do a Cayman to US conversion and charge your card in $USD. Make sure the conversion is correct, or ask it to be charged in Cayman dollars. The weather in early July was good, never rained on us, usually around 50% cloudy with haze in the air from the fires burning in Mexico and South America. The one day we had rain on the west side we were happily on a dive trip on the north and east end where the weather was clear.

Aside from the diving, drinking, and sitting in the sun, there is plenty to do on Grand Cayman. You can for example take a trip to the turtle farm and see first hand a real live industrial farm that raises turtles for food and export. There are lots of cement pools (not unlike sewage treatment ponds) containing turtles of varying sizes. You can also go to Hell, a tourist spot, named for the craggy rock formations that abound. You can go see the Conch Shell House, a private home created out of thousands of conch shells, or there is the historic Old Pink House, an occupied traditional Cayman home that is over a century old! If none of this interests you, you can have a nice walk around the main (only?) city of George Town. George Town is the center of a great financial hub, with banks from all over the world holding their money since the Cayman Islands are tax exempt from the British Government. If you have a lot of money, this is a great place to invest from.

Our nine day stay was at Sunset House on the west end, a few miles south of George Town. Our stay was very relaxing, Sunset House is a very nice diver's resort. The on-site facilities were excellent with both a bar and restaurant, dive shop for tanks and rental gear if you needed it, and Cathy Church has her underwater photo gallery, shop, and school on site with film supplies and such for sale. Other amenities are a pool, small jacuzzi, laundry facilities, an excellent dive crew (Sam, Kelly, Bill, and the rest) and decent dive boats. The average cost of the stay, including airfare from California, was around $2200.00 USD. This paid for our stay in one of the two apartments Sunset House has to offer, food at the bar and Seaharvest restaurant, food and snacks we purchased at the local grocery store, a dive trip on the Manta (a three tank dive on the east and north end of the island), a night dive to the wreck of the Balboa, a dive trip to Stingray City, as well as 6 two tank morning dives along the north west side of the island and unlimited shore diving with the west wall about 200 yards off the Sunset House waterfront.

The west side morning dives were on the Leopard Ray and the Sting Ray. These boats carry a crew of 2 and 12 or so divers comfortably. The usual profile was a deep dive (100') at the north side of the west end and then a 40'-50' dive in the shallows north of George Town. The boats leave the dock around 8:15 and usually get back to Sunset House around 1:00. Lunch pretty much consisted of sandwiches at the bar and dinner usually at the Seaharvest, the on-site restaurant. The restaurant food is very good, some of the best on the island, but is expensive at about $25 an entree. Drinks are extra.

The extra curricular dives we managed were on the Manta, an excellent 3 tank dive on the east and north east side of the island. This is a very fast, large, and conformable dive boat brought to you by the owners of Sunset House. We also managed a trip to Stingray City, a once in a lifetime experience. Okay, it was fun one time but probably never again, once you have seen one ray, you have seen them all. Sunset House will do night dives, usually at the wreck of the Balboa (harbor master permitting), if you have 6 or more people sign up.

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