Wanderlust magazine 9 page colour feature
Beautiful 9 page colour feature in the UK’s top travel magazine for the independent traveller, Wanderlust, by James Stewart who visited Cayman earlier this year. The feature is in the Dec. 2012/Jan. 2013 issue which is on news stands now.
The Cayman Islands just a pretty tax haven, right? Wrong. This idyllic Caribbean trio has prolific and wonderful wildlife both on and off shore.
Words by James Stewart.
There are plenty of easy ways to strike up a conversation on Grand Cayman – drive to North Side district and pull up a bar stool at Over The Edge restaurant, perhaps. But I chose to do it one heroically stupid way…
It was a beautiful afternoon in a botanic park made treacly by heat and tropical flowers. A teenager, pointed out to me earlier as Ruth, caught my attention and nodded; she was steely-eyed and exotic. I returned the greeting and she sidled closer. She nodded again. Flattered, I returned the compliment. She studied me, yawned, then sauntered into the vegetation: my first chat in the argot of the Grand Cayman blue iguana and it turns out I am a crushing bore.
Is anywhere in the Caribbean so maligned as the Cayman Islands? Here it is, a tropical destination with wildlife like B-movie monsters and all outsiders want to talk about is taxes. So, let’s deal with the awkward facts first. The Cayman Islands – Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, often known collectively as Cayman, never the Caymans – are the world’s fifth-largest banking centre and its leading offshore hedge fund jurisdiction. Six corporations are listed for each of the islands’ 50,000 residents.
George Town – the only town worth the name – harbours the financial centre but its heart isn’t in it. A Florida-lite of mirrored low-rises and clapperboard giftshops, it is built on Caribbean time and warm sea breezes. Feral chickens scratch among the officeblocks. Just across the main road is spectacular Seven Mile Beach, the only tourist resort on the island.
Blue is beautiful
The tax-free status of this British Overseas Territory dates back to Oliver Cromwell’s effort to lure settlers. Yet if history suggests anything, it’s that these islands are more nature haven than the tax haven they became in the mid-1980s. Columbus wrote about seas so full of turtles he could practically walk ashore, and the islands took their name from caiman crocodiles.
Nowadays Cayman has more species of flora than the Galápagos, including three orchids found nowhere else. New species are found regularly, botanist Ann Stafford explained as we walked through one of the Caribbean’s last undisturbed subtropical forests. We were on the Mastic Trail, which cuts across the east of the island, an empty green space on my map. Ann pointed out flora such as bloody head-raw bones and red birch, whose peeling bark leads Caymanians to nickname it the ‘tourist tree’. We paused at a spindly shrub: Casearia staffordiae, one Ann had discovered herself.
The fascination of Cayman is its interplay of nature and culture, Ann told me. “Plants are part of the identity of these islands; they make them unique. We don’t have large animals but because of these plants we have an interesting diversity of wildlife.”
The world’s smallest butterfly, the pygmy blue, was presumed extinct until it turned up in Grand Cayman in 2002. Over 180 bird species make merry carnival in the canopy. And then there are those iguanas.
Click on Cayman Islands link above to see 9 page colour feature.