David Foster Wallace wrote an essay for Harpers “A Supposedly Fun Thing That I Will Never Do Again.” It was about cruising in the Caribbean. I read it right after we took our 68 day South America, Antarctica cruise and I thought it didn’t give cruising a fair shake. But having just visited Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island I can see his point.
We were scheduled to arrive at 9 AM, but because of weather we were a little late. The Captain had to decide whether to skip the call or make it. The problem was managing the tenders in the wind. He had great incentive to make the call. Because of weather 44 passengers missed the boat in Fort Lauderdale and flew to Grand Cayman. He wanted to get them on board.
When he launched the first tender it had engine failure so we were delayed further. Suzi and I finally made landfall at 12:30 in the afternoon. We had planned to spend the morning walking around Georgetown and the afternoon at a beach, turtle rookery or some other such activity. But given the rain we decided to just walk around.
Most people never got beyond Harbor Drive, which is a row of somewhat quaint wooden houses, or more modern structures built to look like quaint wooden houses. They contained duty free shops (one of the Kings George freed the islands from all taxes after some heroic defense), chain eating places (Hard Rock Café, Burger King), kitschy theme bars and free wi-fi. I mean who would want to pay thousands of dollars to travel to have an overpriced drinks at “Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville” and check Facebook? Well, apparently a lot of people. And despite the weather there were four ships in. And this was a slow day. According to the Chamber of Commerce they had visitors today, yesterday had visitors, and tomorrow will have visitors. I think the whole story of Harbor Drive can be summed up by a line on the historical plaque at the site of the old Fort George. “The fort was demolished in 1972 following a battle…. “ ready, “…Between a developer and the planning authority.” The Developer won. All that is left is very little of the coral wall, a couple of cannons and a watch tower built during World War II to look for German submarines that may come into the harbor. (One ship was sunk in the harbor during the war.) I suppose part of the reason Harbor Drive was a disappointment is that by the time we got to shore the two museums were closed and the Elmslie United Church, one of the noted sites, was closed for Epiphany.
Away from Harbor Drive, however, we found the town authentically interesting. Any town that has a plaque that commemorates the town’s first radio station, built by University Students in 1972 is a town I might like. The best part was the Peace Memorial, built after the end of World War I and the adjacent Heroes Park. The park had the normal honor roll of Cayman Islanders killed in wars but also celebrated women’s rights activists and seamen who lost their lives, all heroes. The Library sits on the square. It has a ceiling built like an inverted ship bottom. It was closed but the librarian saw us looking into the window and opened it for us. I overcame my library phobia to peek inside. Also along the Heroes square is the Legislative building which had painted tiles telling the history of the island from its discovery by Columbus (I can properly use “discovery” because the island was uninhabited) though wars, the end of slavery, the establishment of representative government, the introduction of universal education, and radio. And the painted tiles themselves represent the vibrant art of the island. There are 500 tiles, one for each year.
After a nice walk through the back streets we returned to the tender, where we were accompanied to the ship by baggage from our newest shipmates. The captain, in his evening announcement, sounded tired. He couldn’t anchor the ship while on station. He had to keep the engines engaged, correcting for the wind and currents to allow for the safe operation of the tenders. To read the Captain’s description of the day you can click on his blog here.
We enjoyed some jazz and went to bed. We get an hour extra sleep as we move west.