Thursday, March 31, 2011

Grand Cayman

Following our adventure in Jamaica, the next port of call on our itinerary was the island of Grand Cayman. I have to confess I was looking forward to this one quite a bit, with its pristine Caribbean beaches. After Jamaica--as fascinating and engaging as it was--I wanted a little decompression time in a country with a more solid economy, where tourists didn't have to be quite so vigilant.

One thing's not immediately apparent about Grand Cayman when booking a cruise--there's no cruise ship terminal on the island. While there are docks for smaller vessels, nothing is available for the enormous cruise ships, so they anchor offshore and passengers have to be tendered in on ferry boats. While heading ashore, we motored past a pair of tall-mast sailing ships, something Captain Jack Sparrow would not find out of place in his wildly successful pirate movies. Turns out that's not terribly far off-base, as these ships make up Jolly Roger Cruises, which look like a lot of fun if you've got the time to spare. We didn't have the time, however. The Wife had booked a bridal shoot/trash the dress photo session through her photography business, Lisa On Location, and we had to reach Smith Cove by 9 a.m.

Smith Cove, Grand Cayman

Most of the passengers seeking sand and sun head north to Seven Mile Beach--all of our ship's beach excursions went that way--but we'd selected Smith Cove for its beauty and isolation. In fact, when we flagged down a taxi, the driver was surprised by our preferred destination: "But there are no facilities there!" By facilities, we soon found out, he meant restaurants and shopping centers. Smith Cove wasn't a tourist trap, so why would tourists want to go there? He dropped us off, and promised to return at noon so we could go get lunch and return to the ship.

Isopods and sea urchin at Smith Cove, Grand Cayman

Smith Cove, if you can't tell from the photos, was a very good call on our part. It's a little patch of paradise on Earth. The beach area itself is fairly small, and flanked by low cliffs of eroded limestone so pockmarked and dark it could pass for lava flows. The cove itself, protected by reefs and rocks, had exceptionally calm waters. Exceptionally clear water as well. Crystal clear, the kids and I were amazed at the tropic fish--electric blue, flashing silver, yellow tiger-striped--swimming fearlessly around us and between our legs. No wonder this is considered one of the top snorkeling areas in the Caribbean. You didn't even have to get into the water to see the marine life. Crabs were scuttling everywhere, and pill bug-like isopods four inches long clung to the rocks near the waterline. Sea urchins were all over the place, and both are visible in the image above.

Rain-dappled green coconuts

Rain showers blew through several times, but they couldn't dampen our spirits. What's a little rain in paradise? They did dampen the coconuts, however. Coconut palms grow everywhere in the Caribbean. I guess the closest Texas equivalent would be hackberry trees, but nobody eats hackberries. Green coconuts. Mmmm. If I'd only had a machete...

Trash the dress photography shoot at Smith Cove, Grand Cayman

Lisha showed up right on time, and it wasn't long before she and Lisa were laughing and chatting back and forth like old friends. She donned the bridal gown and posed for some fantastic glamour shots on the rocks over the cove. The she changed into a second bridal gown Lisa's picked up cheap at a thrift store and dove right into the Caribbean for a no holds barred trash the dress shoot. Lisha had a blast. Lisa had a blast. And we came away with some spectacular photos.

Bridal photography shoot at Smith Cove, Grand Cayman

Once the shoot was over, we said our farewells to Lisha and spent the rest of the morning romping in the clear waters and playing in the sand. It was great. The kids caught tiny sand crabs and found hermit crabs among the rocks. Rains blew up and drenched us, but we were at the beach, so what's the big deal with being wet? As noon approached and our stomachs started grumbling, we packed up and gathered at the parking area for our cab ride. About 20 minutes later it became clear he'd ditched us and wasn't coming. Hiking the two miles back to the ship wasn't a popular option with three kids in tow and my having to lug about 50 pounds of photography equipment. One complaint about Grand Cayman--it is not terribly pedestrian friendly. There were no sidewalks along the road back to port, and no real medians to walk in, either. Fortunately, we found a lovely restaurant less than 100 yards down the road, tucked back toward the shoreline. We called a cab from there and a short while later we were tendered back offshore.

I did manage a little shooting of my own before all was said and done. I set up the tripod and pulled out my old Canon XTi, which doesn't get a lot of use these days since The Wife's Canon 50D and 5D mark II can far out-perform it for most types of photography. But the XTi is still my first choice when it comes to infrared photography. The infrared blocking filter, or "hot mirror", is not as strong as those in the other cameras, meaning I can get better results with shorter exposures. I framed my shots, focused, then threaded in the opaque 720nm filter over the end of my lens and shot away. I only managed a few shots before the skies grew overcast with another approaching rain shower (overcast conditions reduce contrast dramatically in infrared photography, and produce dull, dull, dull images), but I'm more than happy with the false color photos I ended up with:

Smith Cove, Grand Cayman, in infrared

Smith Cove, Grand Cayman, in infrared

No, there were no mystery fruits on this stop. No shanty town mansions or beer vendors in the street. Traffic was calm, and the entire atmosphere was relaxed (things may have been hopping across the island at the famed turtle farm, but I'll never know for sure). All we experienced was a wonderful, relaxing day at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and thanks to the intermittent showers, we had it pretty much all to ourselves the entire time. Ain't life grand?

For more photos from our Grand Cayman excursion, visit the gallery at Lisa On Location.

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