Tuesday, July 29, 2014

33 and Broken: Cayman Edition

Like the start to any great international voyage - you land in a foreign land, fraught with the anticipation and excitement of the unknown and just like any great trip begins - you reach customs, wait an hour, wedged between strollers and senior tour groups with lanyards around their necks, waiting to catch their tour bus, idling outside all for that little stamp that proves you've arrived.

At the insistence of my very dear friend and travel soul mate I booked a trip to the Cayman Islands with Jackie to celebrate my 33rd birthday and take a long exhalation from a hellish summer. A summer from which I am bound to survive but never recover.

Landing in the balmy winds of Grand Cayman cleared my nasal passages but certainly not my mind. At least not yet. Friendly customs officers welcomed us into their tiny Caribbean country right before we hopped on the Tropical Tours shuttle to Comfort Inn and Suites along Seven Mile Beach - the luxury of a packaged vacation is an expense I usually don't incur and one I have little taste for but with limited time and even more limited funds Jackie and I were forced to travel among the banal and head for paradise in a mid level hotel with a continental breakfast included.

I suppose it could be worse.

Not 20 minutes after boarding the bright yellow bus Jackie and I were politely asked to leave as we were so immersed in our estrogen-laced conversation we didn't realize we had reached our destination for the long birthday weekend.

A single bed and kitchenette on the second floor awaited us. Time was of the essence.

A quick change and it was out of door of room 209 and back to the lobby where I may or may not have spotted some attractive men with no gold bands or bitches en tow. A quick chat with a very attractive Miamian who was there coaching a football clinic and seemingly keen to reunite state side, was almost immediately interrupted by my trusty travel companion who would not recognize flirtation if it bit her in the ass and my game was quickly salted like a rimmed margarita. I was ushered out to the bright sunlight of late afternoon in the Caribbean.

Despite the dusk approaching the sun stood strong. Cayman offers talcum powdered beaches and transparent sea, ideal for swimming literally with the fishes only several feet from shore. The bouyancy of the salty sea and warmth of the golden sun allowed a moment of reprieve from 'real life.'

Respectively reading our tomes we were only distracted by the selfie sesh taking place directly in front of us, replete with 4 Dominican women, 4 body types, 2 iPhones and 1 beautiful sunset. There was a clear hierarchy within the group - those who knew just which hand movement and booty placement created the perfect 'natural' look. Jackie and I were captivated. Captivated for a good 30 minutes or so as the shameless shes snapped from every conceivable angle and I can only imagine immediately uploaded to Facebook to show their 'friends' how much better their lives were. Oh how I love the modern world and it's implied narcissism.

With all the possible rays already caught it was time to wash the airplane funk and salt deposits away and get ready for din din.

We had read about Cimboco as well as received a discount card (which were remiss in using) from the front desk so we figured it was the hot spot to feast on our first night on the island. Meandering into a strip mall with a bootleg Chili's was not my idea of an authentic experience but I remained optimistic. That was until the food arrived and Jackie and I realized our overpriced food was filling yet not satisfying in the least, pricey yet not worth the cost of a Big Mac.

Discussions of life, love and devastating loss took place with one of the few people left on the planet with whom I can have such conversations and I was grateful.

With hours to kill before bedtime for anyone neither teething nor menopausal, we decided to take a stroll down the main drag and take in the local sights. These seem to mainly consist of boutiques selling frayed denim jumpsuits, closed for the evening, real estate offices and Irish pubs. Just when we thought all hope had been lost for entertainment on the West Side of Grand Cayman we spotted a mirage, an apparition if you will, in the form of Captain's Bakery and Grill. The Big Boy atmosphere and colorful decor may throw you off, but if you're looking for amiable staff and massive amount of homemade ice cream, including Grape Nuts flavor, this is the place for you.

With vacation being no time to skimp on caloric intake, we opted for the vat of cookies and cream, a large coconut macaroon and a piece of homemade half and half cake with what would soon discover to be lemon frosting.

Enjoying the sticky evening air Jackie and I took turns sampling the local fare whilst seated at a primarily toned picnic table. A local speaking about his multimillionaire daddy interspersed with warnings of Armageddon, in the form of a tropical storm, provided some late night entertainment. It wasn't long after he peddled off into the dark night that we headed back to the single queen room, but not before taking a minor detour down some darkened residential streets in search of what we were sure was just a rowdy house party in need of crashing. Needless to say the party was not located, but out bed and pull out couch were and we were soon hitting snooze for it was the next morning and we had an adventure on which to embark.

Coming to Cayman I knew nothing about the island, the culture. With minimal research I discovered there was the Cayman Island Turtle Farm not 20 minutes up the road from our hotel. This was my only must-do and we did. Reds, a former Californian and now Caymanian who has dreds, 6 kids, and indecipherable accent and a penchant for younger ladies safely dropped up at turtle town and we were on our way. It was only after arriving at the Turtle Farm, guised as a sort of reserve, that we discovered it was in fact a farm, and most of the turtle dishes on the island came from this very spot. The spot where you pet the turtles. The poor, poor turtles.

With the choice between a $19 or a $42 entrance fee the decision was an easy one and we entered the farm, opting out of the swimming experience. Luckily for us after watching the fully mature turtles struggle for what I can only imagine is their great escape and fondle some babies flapping so hard you thought they were trying to fly away home we were approached by a member of the staff and offered entrance into the swimming experience. It pays to have ovaries - sometimes.

After our new covert BFF deposited us at the snorkel cabana, blue wrist bands firmly in place, proving we belong there, and Jackie and I worked through our moral dilemma of the fact that these poor creatures seemingly worshiped in the Caribbean Cayman were being held captive in a place that makes Marine World Africa USA in ass crack Vallejo California look like paradise, we strapped ourselves into adult bibs, replete with crotch straps to traverse the algae-covered cement-bottomed pool used to create the sense of adventure amongst the meek and under exposed when visiting this tropical wonderland.

After a leisurely lap around the pool and making besties with the man from Chattanooga dutifully standing guard at the snorkel shack we rinsed off the turtle juice sure to cause later health complications and, after a brief obligatory stop at the gift shop, were back in the oppressive heat, humid as thick as butter.

Several weeks ago the most traumatic, awful and painful thing imaginable happened and I lost not only the most important person in my life, but my favorite person on the planet. In the wake of such devastation some falter, and some find great strength. Trying desperately to lean more toward the latter I had resolved to do something special on each journey from here on our involving this superman among mere mortals.

For years I had developed some traditions when traveling. A doll for my niece, some earrings for my mother.

Long before the travel bug bit, hell long before puberty hit, I had developed the turtle as a symbol of this integral relationship and made it a point to involve that in my travels as a way to pay homage to this great man.

Long before being safely deposited on Grand Cayman and discovering that this is essentially the turtle Capitol of the world, I had decided that this would be the first stop on a posthumous journey that would hopefully bring us around the world, together. I saw it as an opportunity to bring him to all of the places he should have seen, and all of the places we should have gone together.

Not far from Cayman Island Turtle Farm in the sea of blue and green Caribbean waves that trip began. A strange sensation, letting go - even just a little. Both painful and beautiful; just like life; just like death. 

Having taken my time with this very personal process, we missed the free shuttle back we opted for what we would soon discover was a public bus but far more resembled a taxi cab- a baxi? A cbus if you will.

A nice Jamaican man who attempted to enlist my and Jackie's services as tour guides for his inevitable trip to the Big Apple drove us into town, George Town to be exact, but not before allowing me to ride shotgun, take some quick flicks of cows and pick up a half a dozen travelers along the way.

In a fortuitous stroke of luck we ended up in flash flooded G-town just as the clouds were parting, pointing us directly to Breezes, an eatery on the water about which we had heard and for which we were ready.

In true lesbian partnership style we split a salad and French fries on the outdoor patio overlooking the grey skies and colorful pirate ship freshly docked.

Once the meal was consumed, decisions on the following day were made and the rain had subsided, we figured we would take advantage of being in the bustling Capitol (insert sarcasm here) and walk around Georgetown to see what it offered. Not much was the answer and after I picked up my customary travel baubles, we hailed a city bus back to Seven Mile Beach ready to rent a car for the following day from Andy's rentals - conveniently located just across the road from our abode.

Though Jacks was itching for a Mustang and I was eyeing the yellow Jeep Wrangler we settled on the most cost effective and least protective vehicle on the market in the form of, essentially, a moped with doors. Our reservation was set for the following morning.

Having planned to head to a cheap eatery mentioned in the all too disappointing Fodor's guidebook, we were quickly captivated by the live jams wafting across the way from Peppers, where a cover band was rocking the open air establishment. Despite the disappointment in finally trying breadfruit and being terribly underwhelmed, I remained entertained by the local lush. Everyone knew her name, the real question was were they glad she came?

Just past the girl with the backless dress and enough back far to feed this small country, an octogenarian in a linen shirt and cool guys shades late rocked out with his posse late into the night, bringing me not so hidden joy and excellent people watching. After enough nourishment, both in my belly and in my heart that swells in the joy of the golden years, I took my unique take on resort wear back out onto the street in search of our next destination.

The Royal Palms had been recommended for an after dinner cocktail and though there would be no imbibing had by me, listening to dance tracks remixed with the sounds of lapping waves while lounging on the cool sand was the perfect ending to a Saturday in Cayman.

Up and at 'em bright and early we partook in our complimentary breakfast of raisin bran and lackluster citrus and headed out to pick up up rental car, an hour later than we'd originally requested and then delayed to boot. Island time - you gotta love it! Luckily there was a curious Canadian money launderer with restaurant recommendations to pass the time.

And away we went on our road trip adventure - an all too familiar scenario with Jackie snuggly seated in the passenger position and me behind the wheel, on the wrong side of the road. Perhaps our journeys in Ireland and Australia prepared me for this, as it was the first time I instantly felt comfortable with Brit backwards driving.

First we headed East, along the waterfront, past Georgetown and through the suburban streets with candy coated homes, decorated like birthday cakes with pastel pipping and rainbow sprinkles, dotting the road shaded by trees of Dimetapp orange and crab apple green. The blowholes were our first stop, lingering just log enough to catch some sprays and become irritated with fellow tourists. Quickly we were back in the tiny white Kia, windows down, air con blasting and top 40 pumping out of the standard issue speakers.

With the Magellian goal of circumnavigating the entire island in a day there was no time to waste and it was straight down the road to the Wreck of Ten Sails and subsequently to Big Tree barbecue, a charming front yard stand operated by an apparent husband and wife team offering Cayman cornbread and the local specialty - turtle stew. Thinking I was up for the challenge is became glaringly obvious that once the grey and green bouncy bits flopped their way into a plate that I was not ok with eating the same creatures I was petting and contracting Ebola from just the day before. Jackie was not of the same mind frame and consumed a single piece of turtle and, I have to admit as I watched her chew and chew and chew and swallow, she didn't seem all that disturbed by it. She informed me the taste was quite good but, as I had suspected, the texture was suspect.

The picturesque Rum Point sits at the Eastern most part of the island and makes you feel like you're in Lake Tahoe, only with crystal blue waters and humid air. A quick dip provided us with a cool down and asking Jackie to wear my bamboo hoops in an attempt to keep them dry, and therefore minimally tarnished, provided me with a peek into how ridiculous I must look on a daily basis. And by ridiculous, I mean awesome.

With the Mastic Trail seeming to be the place to hike while on Grand Cayman we decided to head there despite the Navy officer we had met the day prior attempting to deter us. The Northern entrance to the Mastic Trail is a thickly wooded area at the end of a small street that warns of treacherous trails but really is just a long walk over ancient volcanic remains, offering the opportunity to see breathtaking red birches and the occasional lizard. Less than an hour in we decided to make an about face, Jackie in her dress and converse, me in my bikini and running shoes, both profusely dripping a milky liquid created with copious amounts of Hello Kitty aerosol sunscreen and good old-fashioned sweat .

Deciding to skip over the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Garden, and the $10 entrance fee we were on our way back west, back through Georgetown, back past Comfort Suites and straight up to the North of the island.

After stopping for a gallon of water and accidentally skipping past Smith Cove, which Jackie really wanted to see, we somehow finally found our way to Barkers National Parks. This had been suggests for a hike as well as though I don't see how that would be entirely possible with the canal like structure of this national treasure, we managed to find a remote enough beach with shallow waters as far out as the eye could see.

When entering these transparent waters  I experienced something I never had before - not even in Hawaii where the water is touted to be like bathwater - in a good way. This water was not tepid and comfortable - this water was down right warm. It was warmer in the water than on the beach. And it was heaven. I instantly wanted to call my Dad.

Deep breaths were had. A low hanging sun was enjoyed and according to Jackie a barracuda spotting was enjoyed.

With our hours on the island rapidly disappearing, we dragged ourselves out of the welcoming waves and took some time to cruise around the interestingly named 'National Park.' I suppose there are some benefits to living stateside.

Chicken! Chicken! clearly has a great marketing campaign, or perhaps there are just limited options but we had seen it all over and that, mixed with my having had a significant experience with a best friend and Chicken Unlimited in the South Bay when I was still a teenager, led us grab some island delicacies to go for beach noshing and enjoying our last sunset in Cayman. Oven roasted chicken, rice and peas, potatoes and carrots (with a side of cornbread for Jacks) and 'homemade' lemonade were packed into plastic-ware and shuttled ourselves down the street in our now sand-filled rental to catch the last of the day's rays on Seven Mile Beach while reading and eating the final hours of the day away.

Each sunset we experienced was pretty, but none was anywhere near as impressive as the one we witnessed via the cell phone photo gallery from a nice local who approached us while we lounged by the shore. He showed us a fiery red sunset from a couple months back on the same piece of beach. Trust me, I am not complaining -Jackie and I enjoyed the various shades of blue and purple that tie-dyed the sky until it became dark, but the shots on our new island friend's phone were almost unbelievable in their technicolor wonder.

We would soon discover that this new island friend was a 31-year-old named Richard and would be our tour guide for the evening. With promises of Reggae dancing and picnics on the beach Jackie and I were excited to go out with a bang and, once it was evident that bathing suits were no longer proper attire, we packed up our things and made our way up to our room just one floor up and showered and changed into our into our evening wear, ready to have a true Caribbean experience.

At 9:30 sharp Richard appeared in our lobby and called up to beckon his new Americanas, for our chariot awaited. Sadly, he made my new 22-year-old boyfriend at the front desk mildly jealous, but since front desk homie only got my number by searching the reservation book, I felt I didn't owe him much.

The Chariot ended up being our own sand-mobile as we loaded 6'4" Richard into the back of our hatchback to be driven around the island. He remained stoic despite the cramped quarters and was genial and eager to show off his Cayman pride. First stop was The Tower, a part of the newly built multiplex housing million dollar condos, interesting outdoor art and architecture and the only cinema on all 3 islands. The beautifully tiled mosaic's that line the double helix stairway up to the top of the tower offers a delicious sampling of color and texture before being are met with the breeze off the water and lights dotting the night sky.

Anxiously awaiting our nighttime picnic, we were instead then brought, on what was now our tropical double date, with gentlemen dripping in bling and color to a low key watering hole on the beach where I could drink my high fructose virgin delight while allowing the waves to lap against my legging-covered ankles. The men took turns, seeing who they might have a shot with and when the consensus seemed to be reached - no one - Richard's friend feigned hunger and we dropped him back at his car and got ourselves gas and candy - fuel of two types - before heading to a 'pool party' our social director had referenced a couple of times thus far.

This party was at Dump Road Bar, and if you think this sounds sexy - your'e right. This tiny, hut nestled in the back of a strip mall/industrial wasteland offers a pool party each and every Sunday afternoon in which a Doughboy kiddie pool is set up in the middle of this dank destination and women of all shapes and sizes are encouraged to twerk away their worries, which scantily clad and wet in the liquid circle, as the male patrons look on lustfully. By the time we arrived there were very few women in the establishment, and only one still in the pool. The pool patron was upside down in a monokini with lots of CI singles tucked away in her special spot and seeming to have the time of her life. I'll admit, I was intrigued, and saddened that I missed out on the festivities, though not the contraction of Hep C bound to be floating around that stagnant water in the middle of a bar.

It is when faced with situations such as this that Chris Rock and Chris Heard ring through my head, and heart and I realize that my father's success was keeping both me, and my sister, off the pole. Or in this case, out of the pole.

With true culture of that level reached, there was little left to do than thank my lucky stars I had booked this trip to see my own personal marine life performance this up close and personal.

Back to the hotel (beep beep) and it was bedtime, but not before Richard implored me to perhaps once day bear his progeny. He was feeling this intense chemistry - but I think perhaps his chains were merely acting as a conductor of the coming tropical storm. Either way, no babies were made. Ah, the interesting people you meet along the way.

With plans to wake early for our last chance at su,n Jackie and I were out like a light and up at 8 to feast once again on Raisin Bran, though the dorm style cereal dispenser proved tricky for my travel mate. I booked our shuttle as Jackie returned the car to Andy's (teamwork!)  and we reconvened on the beach for our last hours in this tropical paradise.

When it was time to catch the shuttle we were saddened, but reality must always be faced and our car full of a family from Queens, full of Yankee pride and Long Island accents, provided some distraction before arriving at the airport hours early, per regulations. The irony in this strictly enforced early arrival time is that the aircraft was essentially parked next to the Chryslers, and I swear there was a donkey. There is always a donkey. Daim candy provided a delicious distraction from the Arctic breeze pumped through the one room airport and with the flight boarding immediately before us being to Havana it took all of my strength not to make a break for it. But I remained strong. I remained resolute. I remained responsible.

As a wise woman once said, 'you take yourself everywhere you go.' Though I am grateful to have had some time in the sun, and grateful to have the sort of friend who encourages me to continue to do the things that bring me joy at a point in my life where experiencing that is minimal - I was still with me. Still heartbroken, still hurting, just a little older, just a little tanner; more freckled. Even though I was in the pleasant paradise of Cayman, I was, and am, still 33 and broken.