So, I was pretty excited about this stop as I had fantasized about living in the Cayman Islands since watching Fleming and John's video about living and diving there. To be sure, I was not disappointed. A and I got off the boat and negotiated a price for a trip to Stingray City and snorkeling at a coral garden. Wow! Stingray City?! Eek, you can imagine I was a little scaredey-cat about this, but I still wanted to do it and I'm so glad I did. The stingrays are fed a little by the tour operators so they are used to coming up to you when the boats come to their sandbar - they actually come in pretty great numbers as each boat pulls up.
After a little adjusting to the waves and the shuffle step important to avoid stepping on any burrowed rays, I got to touch, stroke, hold and kiss the rays. They say kissing the ray will give you seven years of good luck (french kissing gets you a lifetime!). Luck or no luck, it was an incredible experience. Sting rays have a ridge of stiff and spiny tissue over their center on top and a stiff stinging barb on their tail, but other than that they are rabbit-fur soft and slippery to touch. I like touching them like a like touching snakes - they are so delightfully different that they are a pleasure to touch. They seem to like touching us to as they often would swim by with their fins tilted up running them along our legs and bodies. We learned that the big rays are female and the males are much smaller - our female guide joked about that charmingly.
Even though we weren't snorkeling, I got back on the boat for my mask to see the rays under water better and A used his camera equipped with underwater case. I could really learn to love doing underwater photography - it was so fun to be able to take the camera underwater with us. We got some great photos and even a bit of video.
After the sting rays, the coral garden wasn't quite as exciting. They had given us vests the help us float and requested that we not use fins, but I would have traded the two in since I'm a strong swimmer and would have preferred to do some duck-diving. Despite seeing several different kinds of fish and coral, I wondered if the coral around Cayman is dying. It made me think of this coral recovery project.
A had to push me to get me back on the boat at the end of snorkeling - I wish I'd snorkeled, swam and dived at every stop! - but our guides even made the trip back interesting. They had harvested several conch while we were snorkeling and they showed us how they remove the animals from their shells - they are really strange and ugly to look at out of their beautiful homes with tubes that would seem more mechanical than biological. I was pleasantly surprised when our guide finished cleaning one of them and cut it up for us to eat - the consistency of a fleshy fruit with a sweet, briny flavor, A and I enjoyed the raw conch very much, but would probably recommend eating it in fritters or chowder. In the channel, we looked for swimming iguanas with no luck, but one of our guides dived off to hunt his dinner - a huge lobster! Everyone took pictures with the poor doomed creature and then we were back at the dock.
We'd had so much fun there that we wanted some kind of souvenirs, so I got one of the empty conch shells from our trip and we grabbed a few ornaments for our Christmas tree. On our way back to the ship, A decided to grab a couple of Cuban cigars for himself and the groom and they were making last-call motions at the tender back to the ship. We managed to get onboard the last tender and make it back to the ship, but it was a close call. I guess being stuck on Grand Cayman with A and our snorkel gear wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world though.
What I Learned: I LOVE Sting Rays!
My Favorite Part: Everything STING RAY!