About Me

My photo
Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Swimming with Stingrays

Grand Cayman

I awake at 6am to get ready for the morning's planned expedition to swim with stingrays in The Cayman Island's central North Bay. Grand Cayman, the capital for the three Cayman Islands, is more or less a large "U", if the right hand side of the U was smeared by Picasso. On drugs. The open top of the U is a shallow bay, with coral and sand bars which make it impossible for anything larger than a good sized yacht to traverse.

The sting rays we are here to visit will add themselves to the variety of sea creatures we've seen up close and personal: turtles, manta rays, tropical fish, dolphin. Whales (humpback, gray and orcas) and sea lions from a safe, respectful distance.

By 6:45 I'm showered and am reading a chapter of Michael Palin's fascinating FULL CIRCLE, accounting his trip circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean. My wife's alarm sounds and she gets up, commenting how much she's anticipating a return to our normal schedule. Breakfast, room service, should be here shortly.

I open the stateroom drapes and see the first sliver of land as we approach Georgetown. 

Tendering In
The ship's forward camera shows us moored and stable by seven. The captain commented last evening that he wasn't sure yet whether he would be tethering to a mooring bout or dropping anchor. By the image on screen I can't tell which he's decided upon, but we're here. A tall ship is visible in the camera's view. It's the Star Flyer, a similar but unrelated ship to the Sea Cloud II which we encountered in the Panama Canal. It reminds me how much I love the silhouette of a sailing ship. 

Very photogenic and evocative.

Other than the 'Flyer we're the sole cruise ship in port, and quick scan of the horizon suggests we'll have Georgetown to ourselves at least for the early morning.

A knock at the door and breakfast is delivered promptly on time. Over easy eggs, turkey bacon, coffee and English muffins for me; yogurt, sliced bananas and tea for my wife.

I go up on deck to get a few shots of the port. Three of the Veendam's tenders are already in the water, spinning about and seeming to play like a trio of young seals just back in the water after sitting for too long on the beach. 

We join the others in our group and tender over to Georgetown. Despite the shortness of the trip, the heat is oppressive. No air moves, making the transit to dockside miserable, even if a short one. But we arrive, are collected by our hosts for the day, Kelly Tours, and bundled off on a bus to a small marina on North Bay.

Capt Davin and Daryl
The boat is captained by the very able Davin, and crewed by Daryl, David and photographer Tia. Tia was sporting a Nikon AW1, same model as mine. We bonded immediately. The boat seated 20 quite comfortably,and the ride out was uneventful, serene and beautiful.

We arrived at the sandbar joining a group of eight other boats, with three of us arriving simultaneously. Our captain selected an area just to the east of the other boats, giving us our own area without the need to join the large group congregating in the middle.

Once in the water waves bash at you, trying to dislodge your footing. Dark shapes -- the rays -- approach from the surrounding ocean and race through and around legs, skimming smoothly through the crowd of people gathered at the stern of the boat. The larger, darker shapes, are females. Much smaller, sand colored shapes also race around. These are the males, which are harder to see and more likely to pause at or near your feet, making each step a little hazardous. 

I alternate between shooting video and still shots of the rays. They are beautiful and elegant, seemingly unafraid of humans. One of the boat's crew manages to capture one of the females for closer inspection, holding it so we can touch them (in the safer regions) and learn a but about stingray anatomy. 

We, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, are assured that kissing one will bring seven years of good luck, though I'd venture to guess that's just a way to have a little fun at the tourists' expense. Nonetheless I kiss the thing (see below), which promptly spits seawater. This elicits a laugh from the crew members, and Tia manages to get it all on camera. 

When a stingray rejects your kiss, there's bound to be trouble.

A male ray

(Fortunately there are no major mishaps, though one elderly woman feeding them small sardine-like fish does get her arm sliced open when an overly aggressive ray tries to find more food. The injury is immediately attended to by the boat's crew and the two Veendam crew members along for the day. The Veendam crew take charge once we return to shore and promptly escort the woman back to the ship to be seen by the ship's doctor. The woman constantly reassures everyone she's all right, and to go on about our tour without her.)

After an hour in the water we're gathered back up and head back for the final leg of our two week adventure. We get back into town and head for the local "Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville" for a last-minute drink before tendering back to the ship. (We've been to a number of them in Key West, Las Vegas and elsewhere. Not deliberately collecting them, just keep running into their restaurants.)

This leads to the only real hiccup of the day, when I ask if the restaurant has a "full bar" the first response is one of confusion. The waitress doesn't understand the term. I refine the request and ask if they have vodka. It seems to me that a martini from Margaritaville in the Cayman Islands might make a fun and irreverent addition to the CHASING MARTINIS collection and book. Since this cruise has already given me fodder enough for an extra chapter, this might be a fitting closing shot.

The waitress assures me they have vodka so I order the martini. 

She returns a few minutes later with bad news: the bartender won't make a martini, telling the waitress they don't have olives. I tell her a lemon twist will be okay. She shakes her head. "We don't make martinis. Do you have another vodka drink you want?"

Margaritaville, no martinis allowed
I reconfirm they have vodka. Yes. Do you have vermouth? She isn't sure, but I tell her it's not necessary. (Stop screaming, this was a delicate situation.) Do you have lemons? Yes. Okay. Can they make a VERY DRY martini , with a lemon twist? No. Why not? The bartender won't make it.

For a moment I consider going "Jack Nicholson wants toast", but it isn't worth the effort. For another half a second I am tempted to order a double vodka with a lemon twist, but decide even the irony of that would be lost on the bartender. I order water. 

Nachos, with "water"
(Open Note to Jimmy Buffett: I'd be curious to know how much revenue you are losing to this sort of lateral thinking. I'm pretty sure you would have laughed it off and made me the drink, yes? Even the Marriott Waikiki was adventurous enough to give it a whirl at their outdoor Tiki Bar.)

Moments later I have a plastic glass of water where a martini should be. I'd even have accepted the drink in a plastic glass. It would have made a fun addition to the portfolio. We return to the ship without a Cayman Islands martini for the book, leaving the entirety of the Caribbean still unrepresented. 

Happily, the earlier-in-the-day spectacle of watching stingrays sliding and gliding through my legs and around the legs of others swiftly regains prominence in my limited attention span, and we retire to our stateroom with an amazing end to the cruise. It finishes the voyage with a suitable exclamation point, and I realize that come Monday, and a return to normalcy, that the more than a thousand shots taken in the last two weeks will need to be catalogued and edited for the many posts you have (hopefully) been reading these last two weeks.

It's Friday night and we arrive in Tampa early Sunday morning. It's been a busy and adventurous trip all around.

Time for some rest.

The author, kissing a Stingray

No comments:

Post a Comment