Click on interactive map of Grand Cayman Island to enlarge and for more detail.
A few weeks ago, in February 2014, Pat and I together with our daughter Anna made our first visit to the island of Grand Cayman. We landed at Owen Roberts International Airport on the outskirts of the capital, George Town.
Owen Roberts was a pioneer, who did much to develop Cayman long before it became famous internationally for the reasons I mention in the final paragraphs below. Roberts served as a Wing Commander in the Royal Air Force during World War Two.
After the war, with a couple of old planes, Roberts established Caribbean International Airways with the object of providing flights to Cayman from Tampa, Jamaica and Belize. He persuaded the Cayman authorities to build airfields on all three of the Cayman Islands. The airline’s inaugural flight from Jamaica to Grand Cayman, piloted by Roberts, was scheduled for April 1953. Sadly the plane crashed on its takeoff from Jamaica, killing Roberts. He was only 40. Having often escaped death at the hands of the Luftwaffe during World War II, it is ironic that he should die on a distant tropical island in pursuit of his entrepreneurial dreams.
Leaving the airport, we checked into our hotel on Seven Mile Beach located on the western edge of the island. This is Cayman’s most famous beach, with white powdery sand, crystal clear warm water, palm trees and a gentle tropical breeze, but it is only one of the many such beaches on the island. Click on picture below to watch great video of Grand Cayman.
Cayman is one of the best diving sites in the world. There is probably more to see underwater than ashore, because Grand Cayman is as flat as a pancake and somewhat featureless.
We were told to go to Hell, so we went. Hell is an area that gets its name from a quarter acre of blackened calciferous rock, but there’s little else to see there.
Seven Mile Beach is packed with hotels and restaurants and Grand Cayman has its own brewery, which produces four different beers. I most enjoyed Caybrew, which describes itself as a smooth full bodied premium lager, with a crisp clean hop character. It was certainly the equal of the imported beers. Click here to see a video about the Cayman Brewery.
I learned from my days in Nigeria over half a century ago never to be dismissive of the local beers. Nigerian Breweries Inc at that time produced something called Star Beer. My fellow expatriates referred to Star as ‘‘the local swamp water” and instead drank far more expensive imports, like Heineken and Carlsberg. Yet Star was fine for me then and Caybrew would suit me fine today, if I lived in these islands.
But would I want to live in these islands? Grand Cayman is tidy, crime-free and well managed. It’s also tax free. Christopher Columbus spotted it in 1503 and it became British in 1670 under the terms of the Treaty of Madrid. It was always administered by the British as part of the colony of Jamaica but, when Jamaica became independent in 1962, Cayman made the decision to stay British. The population then was 7,000, but today it is 56,732.
The Cayman islands are today referred to as a British Overseas Territory, which is “politically correct speak” for colony. There is a British governor backed up by civil servants, who are appointed by London. There is also an 18 member Legislative Assembly and an Executive Council, some members of which are titled Minister or even Prime Minister. However, the governor controls security, foreign affairs, defense, police and civil service.
Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and visited the island in 1994 to open the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, famous for its Blue Iguana program.
These endangered creatures – like gentle blue dragons – can be seen roaming the park in safety. They are massive lizards, 20 to 30 inches in body length with a tail of equal length.
Let’s consider again whether I would want to live here? The answer is in the negative. The problem is that, although Cayman is in the middle of the Caribbean geographically, it’s culturally more like South Florida. It’s a first world country, so why exchange one first world location for another? The people are polite and it’s all very clean. It’s tranquil racially and politically, yet it’s not very Caribbean. There’s no cricket, corruption, calypsos, crumbling roads and picturesque ruins. It’s not like the other islands. So what happened?
In 1962 Cayman stayed with Britain instead of becoming independent alongside Jamaica. The Caymanians took an initiative that has since made the islands one of the wealthiest places on earth. They offered investors freedom from taxes, together with secrecy, security and discretion.
Bankers at first continued to deal with Switzerland or with Nassau in the Bahamas, but the Bahamas became independent in 1974, after which there were soon calls in Nassau for the banks to become nationalized. The banks fled to Cayman and soon there were billions of dollars invested there in hundreds of new banks and insurance companies.
Today Cayman is host to dozens of world class accountants and tens of thousands of registered companies. Outside each law office is a long notice board detailing every company registered with the firm. Per capita, there are more telephones, telex machines and fax machines in George Town than anywhere else on earth.
There is no poverty on Cayman, so it’s not surprising that the population has increased eight-fold since it parted company with Jamaica back in 1962. There is none of the shabbiness to be seen on other Caribbean islands. Everyone here is doing well financially. Yet a distinctive local atmosphere is absent, so I’ll stay in Florida thanks.