My biggest worry in the weeks leading up to this trip was, "is seven days and nights too long?" Before you laugh consider the fact that Pam and I had never been away for this long before...ever. Our honeymoon was shorter. Would we run out of things to talk about? I mean, we do at home. When you're around each other all the time, it's easy to run out of stuff to talk about. How many times can you tell your wife about your latest pulled muscle without it getting a little boring? How many times can your wife regale you with the latest insane happenings within the education bureaucracy without you just tuning her out? I pictured the very real possibility that by Wednesday night we would be sitting at some five-star bistro, picking at our risotto while checking e-mails on our cell phones. On our last dinner I shared my fear with Pam and she informed me that she had worried about the very same thing. Then we looked at each other and said, "What the heck were we thinking???"
This place has been so glorious, such a delight, it has afforded me the opportunity to think of nothing but her for over a week. Doing so has been like a holiday from life. What happens when your mind suddenly empties itself of every care, every burden, real or imagined? You become a different person, that's what, and this new guy is way cooler than the guy you were at home. Your wife becomes that beguiling creature who spun your head around 30 years ago. You wake up on day two and realize that you're on a second honeymoon, but this time you're not a couple of witless idiots, and this time you have enough money to eat something besides oatmeal cream pies and orange soda. Sweet!!
Our hotel, the Grand Cayman Beach Suites Resort, is very nice but initially disappointed me. I planned everything about this trip, I picked the place, made all of the arrangements and did all the research, so on the taxi ride from the airport, I was nervous. It didn't overwhelm me, and for the first few hours, I felt like I had failed somehow. Our suite was very nice but the hotel itself seemed a little threadbare, a little long in the tooth, especially for the money I had paid. But then we walked down to the beach and suddenly felt much better...or at least we would, as soon as it stopped raining. Yes, after a five and a half hour flight, paradise greated us with a torrential downpour that had us fleeing to the Seven Mile Beach Bar for a drink while we waited out the storm and waited for our room to be cleaned. Our friendly barkeep,(and everyone on the Island was friendly), assured us that rain in the Cayman's was something that blew in and blew out with little notice. Before we could say, "Good Lord, look at the size of that iguana," the rain was gone and the clear blue sky opened up above us like a dream. The ocean lapped up on the perfect, shell-less sand with less force than the waves on a lake in Maine. A turquoise expanse spread out before us as far as the eye could see like a blue mirror. We both looked at each other with mouths ajar like a couple of tourists from Des Moines. The only thing missing would have been black socks, sandals, and a metal detector. We have been to many islands in the Carribean, but neither of us had ever seen such a beach. The vacation had begun!
The cab ride from the airport had disabused me of any notion I might have had of renting a car for the week. Being a British nation, everything was backwards...and terrifying. Just about the time I would finally start feeling comfortable, we would enter one of the ubiquitous roundabouts, which is English for, "what the &&$:@&8,?¡$7!!!!!" No, if we were leaving the resort it would be on foot or in one of the handy island buses, which amounted to private Caymanian citizens out to make a buck by offering to take you anywhere on the island for 5 American dollars. No need for bus stops or posted routes, just start walking in the direction you intend to go and wait for someone to honk their horn politely at you. Wave back at them and you've got yourselves a deal! This arrangement was literally the only affordable thing to be had in the Cayman's. The cost of living here is outrageous thanks to all the American tourists willing to pay 20 dollars for a tuna wrap, bag of chips and a flat soft drink. But, you know that going in, so you have to mentally prepare yourself to overpay for everything. Oh, and then there's the relentless problem of having to constantly perform math. Prices are generally posted in Cayman dollars, which are worth .80, but everyone accepts American dollars as well. So, when you find yourself pleasantly surprised that the green fee for nine holes of golf with rental clubs is only $80, you're only allowed to be shocked once when the nice man behind the counter asks you for $100 American.
But that's the only thing bad I can think to say about this place. In every other way it is truly a paradise. The people are friendly beyond description. The streets are safe and clean. Almost every night Pam and I would leave the hotel grounds and walk somewhere, and never once did we feel threatened. You try leaving your hotel in Jamaica after dark and your experiences wind up being made into a Lifetime movie starring Valerie Bertinelli!
We began every day by parking ourselves in our nifty resort beach chairs, featuring a retractable roof which could be raised and lowered as needed. With the temperature each day topping out at exactly 86 degrees, this little convenience was worth it's weight in gold. About every twenty minutes or so one of us would say, " Time to get wet." Then we would walk ten steps towards the beach, take another five steps and suddenly we were up to our chests in clear water, so clear you could see your toes against the white sand bottom. Heaven.
At least once before lunch the drink-boy (me) would walk up to the Beach bar and order up either a Pink Sand Beach or a Mudslide and bring it down as a surprise. Pam was quite impressed. Then we would apply for a line of credit on our house so we could have lunch beachside. I'm mostly just kidding...Each evening we would do something different. One night we took a catamaran ride across the Cayman Bay to Rum Point for a romantic dinner. Incedently, on the Cayman's there are no other kinds of dinners. We never ate at the same restaurant twice, and each was a wonder.
Along the way there was snorkeling. But this was exclusively a Pam thing. She was amazing at it, gliding out there fearlessly. Twice before I had tried, without success, to snorkel. Each time I had the same result, a lung full of salt water. Apparently, the combination of my facial hair and my "face shape" does not lend itself to a pleasant snorkel experience. I went back to the Red Sail Sports desk to inquire if perhaps they had a larger mask to accommodate my..er...prominent, aristocratic nose. I was told that they used to have a special size HH mask, (huge honker) but had gotten rid of it ever since Barbara Steisand stopped visiting the island back in the 80's.
One day we made our way into Georgetown, the capital city. We bought two tickets for a submarine excursion out to the coral reef, and got to view it up close from a depth of 107 feet. Then we had lunch at a famous local place called Guy Harvey's. Food was excellent, but the house music was about the most horrible, but hilarious soundtrack...EVER. First, there was a local Caymanian artist doing a synthicizer and steel drum version of a Captain and Teneal number called "Love will keep us together." Not to be outdone, another local artist provided his soulful reggae-elevator fusion take on Steely Dan's "Do it again." This was music to die a slow death to, the kind of music you would expect to hear through the loudspeaker at the Montego Bay Wallmart. We couldn't get back to the beach fast enough!
Our last full day was perhaps the best. I took Pam up in a parasail from which we could see the entire island. It was magnificent. We even saw a turtle on the surface, lime green in color, lumbering 300 feet below us. For a minute I thought Pam would cry, she was so happy.
This morning, we both got up extra early so we could spend some time on our beach, wrenching the last few drops out of our time here. I went for a run on the beach. Pam snorkeled some more and saw another turtle. After she went in to shower and pack, I swam out to the fifteen foot float that was secured out a ways in front of the hotel beach. I laid on my back and closed my eyes, rocking gently in the soft current. What a week this has been, I thought. Best money I have ever spent.