The Cayman Islands may be known as a tax haven, but for Cathy Winston it’s the rare butterflies and blue iguanas that raise her interest rate
Cathy Winston Sunday 29 January 2012
…….. It takes far less effort to immerse myself in the island’s natural side. Ann Stafford, a British expatriate who has lived on the
islands since the 1970s, runs nature tours of Grand Cayman, between growing ghost orchids in her garden and co-authoring a book on the islands’ butterflies.
“Native plants are part of the history, culture and identity of the islands. They’re what makes them unique,” she explains. “We don’t have large wild animals but we do have an interesting diversity of wildlife.”
One option is walking the mastic trail, a three-hour hike in Grand Cayman’s interior through a two million-year-old sub-tropical dry forest, past black mangroves and the mastic trees that give it its name. Instead, I opted for a less strenuous but no less fascinating way to see the best of the island, as Ann led me on a journey down backstreets and behind tennis courts, in search of native plants: the evocatively named Bloody Head Rawbones, the spiky Shake Hand tree and the innocently lush Maiden Plum, with its poisonous, rash-inducing leaves.
From Grand Harbour, just east of George Town, we set off on the trail of some of the birds which migrate and settle on the stretches of water here – sandpipers, plovers to egrets, – before spotting blue herons from the pond-side bench at the small Governor Gore bird sanctuary, named after Michael Gore, a former governor (and keen wildlife photographer).
Christopher Columbus was the first to spot the Cayman Islands during his fourth and final voyage in 1503. After noting there were so many turtles in the water that he could almost walk to shore on their shells, he named them Las Tortugas and promptly set sail again. Successive sailors arrived and swiftly departed, complaining about mosquitoes and a lack of anything to tempt settlers.
In 1586, Francis Drake called it a dreadful place with “great serpents called Caymanas, large like lizards” while the French confidently announced the islands weren’t worth bothering with at all. Later renamed after the island’s native crocodiles – the Spanish caiman stuck even when the archipelago came under British control in 1655 – Cayman was finally settled by a mix of deserters from Oliver Cromwell’s army and retired pirates, before receiving its tax-free status from George III, after inhabitants rescued the crews of 10 British merchant ships that struck the reefs. ………………..