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Blog Home > Archive (December, 2017)

If you want to see the "real island" then biking the West Bay Loop is for you! Tour guide, Richard McKee, leads bike tours through West Bay and shares lots of history and saucy facts about Cayman along the way. Aside from being a great Caribbean historian, Richard is a hoot and will keep you entertained along the way.

The tour meets and ends at the Cracked Conch/Macabuca. When my husband and I pulled up and approached the bike stand, Richard was there helping two other couples find the best bikes and helmets for their ride; and then did the same for us. I got the "Birthday bike" and was feeling pretty special as I made a few practice laps around the parking lot. (Someone had wrapped the handlebars with ribbon the day before for a Birthday girl.) Richard prepped us for the journey with some safety tips (like "Remember to stay to the left!!") and off we went.

We rode for a while and then stopped in at Boatswain Bay, a quiet little nook we never would have found on our own. Directly next to the bay is a cemetery, so Richard told us about burial customs new and old including shells used to mark graves (that are still there now). We took shelter from the sun under some shade trees nearby, and Richard started in with the history of the islands beginning with Christopher Columbus discovering the islands in 1503. He explained how the islands went from Spanish to British rule and how they went from the island that time forgot to one of the most successful islands in the Caribbean. He wrapped up our first stop by telling us he was going to tell us about the economic miracle of the Cayman Islands in little spurts along the way which left me excited for not only the biking ahead but our stops, too!

teeny house on beach

As we rode further through West Bay we got a good glimpse of the local life. We passed West Bayers who were walking, biking and relaxing on their porches. Everyone we passed was so friendly, wishing us a good morning and waving and smiling as we passed. We pulled up briefly next to an ackee tree along our way, and Richard told us all about the local love for the fruit and how Caymanians would often cook up a fresh batch of ackee and cod for dinner. We also made a quick stop at Hell, so Richard could explain how the attraction came to be and then carried on.

Our next big stop was at the library adjacent to the Sir. John A Cumber Primary School. School children were playing at recess when we stopped. Richard pointed out the British architecture of the library and then continued on telling us about the history and economic miracle of the Cayman Islands. As he gave us the coolest history lesson, a few of the school children had taken notice of our group and were waving and chuckling hellos at us in the background. Any time we'd actually look their way they'd immediately look away and act as if they hadn't been trying to get our attention. They were pretty cute, and it was fun to feel a part of everyday Cayman. We left the school grounds, and pedaled along further through West Bay. I was starting to feel proud of my morning workout!

library kids at recess and biking

The next stop was a fun surprise - and I'm not sure if Richard always makes it a stop - but he took us by his house to show us what life was like for residents of West Bay. He pointed out beloved birds flying around in his back yard, told us about hurricane preparations and explained why Caymanians feel that 9 ft above sea level is high ground and a valuable asset. He shared a few more facts and stories, and then we headed off towards Barker's National Park.

On our way to Barker's we made a pit-stop to look at interesting architecture and learn more about how the island has evolved. Once we arrived at Barker's we took a little break to walk around and then Richard shared more history and current affairs with us. We picked up our bikes and hit the road again, this time pedaling through mostly residential roads, winding our way to the West Bay Four Ways stop and then crossing over to Boggy Sand Road. The houses that line this little coastal road are a mix of old charming island cottages and new luxurious homes; and I think Richard had a story for just about every one of them! Once we left what might possibly be my favorite road on the island we headed back for home base - Macabucca. The final stretch of the ride was especially beautiful with the sea peeking through the trees to our left. I felt so peaceful and enjoyed having a little time for personal reflection.

Once we returned, Richard told us we had biked 11 miles which surprised all of us. He gave us some advice for what to do with the rest of our time on island and then several of us decided it was time for some grub at Macabuca. We earned it!

If you'd like to bike the West Bay Loop (which I 5000% recommend), get in touch with Richard on his website here. I hadn't ridden a bike in a year or so, and would only call myself slightly in shape at best; so don't let the 11 miles scare you away. : )

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Hiraydis Rivero has been with Christopher Columbus for one year. She says many people have trouble pronouncing her name, so it’s okay if you call her Miss Iris for short when you see her around the condos.

Hiraydis moved to Grand Cayman from Cuba with her husband, Olisdel. She loves the Cayman people, and recommends that every visitor to the island gets out there to meet them! The friendliness of the Caymanians is what she likes best—they’re always happy to see you. She says the food around the island is pretty great, too, and her favorite dish is chicken with vegetables. For fun she likes to put on her dancing shoes and listen to live music, especially steel bands and any kind of Cuban music from back home.

She also loves meeting new people, so be sure to say hello and introduce yourself the next time you're visiting!

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When I arrived for a tour of the Crystal Caves, I expected to just learn about things like stalagmites and stalactites. But thanks to tour guide Donovan Ebanks, I came back from the excursion with a new appreciation for the history, flora, and ecology of Grand Cayman.

As he drove the tour group down a winding road, Donovan told us that the caves are located 62 feet above sea level, which is the highest point on Grand Cayman. There are over one hundred caves across seventy-five acres, three of which were open to the public at the time we visited with more openings to come in the future. 

Donovan grew up around three miles from the Crystal Caves on his grandfather’s fifty-acre farm. He eventually made a move to the United States, where he worked as a bartender in San Diego for around twenty-five years. He ended up back home on Grand Cayman when a San Diego connection recruited him to come work as a tour guide for Crystal Caves. As a child, Donovan explored the caves with his friends, so it felt like there wasn't anyone better to show us around. 

Along the pathway, Donovan stopped to point out the red birch tree. He called it the living fence post, but also the Tourist Tree. “Why do we call it the Tourist Tree? Cuz it’s red and peelin’.” He knocked away a few peels of bark and waited for our laughter.

That wasn’t the only funny joke Donovan had up his sleeve, however, and he would frequently make a joke, wait a beat, and then exclaim, “Just kidding guys!” Donovan was great with the kids on the tour, making sure to explain certain facts just to them so they didn’t feel left out.

Once inside the first of three caves, Donovan explained how he and his friends would come explore the caves. Before the caves were cleared out for visitors to enjoy, they were filled with rocks and red sand, which meant no clear walkways or paths. Donovan said he’d crawl through the caves on his hands and knees, playing with his friends and gaining them all amateur-spelunker status. He was sure to warn us that the red sand is impossible to get out of clothing, so we should be careful. While he didn’t mention getting in trouble as a kid for coming home covered in stains, I did wonder how his grandfather must have felt about it!

Outside each cave and along the walkways, Donovan would stop to point out specific trees and plants and their many uses. “Take a look,” he’d say and would let us gather around. He explained that the green papaya is the best world’s meat tenderizer. Amazingly, the fruit off soursop trees can be made into a tea that helps fight high blood pressure and even has  properties that can prevent cancer. The ironwood tree provides wood as sturdy as the name suggests—Donovan’s grandfather’s house was framed with ironwood and withstood many hurricane seasons in Grand Cayman.

Donovan also explained how the bounty of the land provided the island with economic opportunities in early settlement days. Leaves from the Silver Thatch Palm were weaved into ropes and hats that were sold to traders, as well as used for roof thatching at home. The Silver Thatch Palm is indigenous to the Cayman Islands and is not only the national tree but also makes an appearance on the country’s flag.

Inside the caves, Donovan showed us some of the more noteworthy formations and shared the fun names the staff and other tourists had come up with, including the cathedral room, the Statue of Liberty, and the dragon. There was even a formation that looked like a head and was wearing a pair of sunglasses. "These caves are very much alive," he told us, explaining that the water droplets that sprinkled us in the head meant the stalactites were growing, albeit very slowly. "If you get hit with a water droplet, it's seven years good luck!" By the time we were through, I'd saved up enough good luck to last me several decades. 

While the Crystal Caves were beautiful, I was most interested in Donovan’s knowledge of the island. His stories brought a new appreciation for the Cayman people, their resourcefulness, and the landscape of the island itself. I wasn't the only one—at the end of the tour, another guest from New Jersey turned to me and said, “I think what Donovan had to say about all the plants was the best part.”

Check out the Crystal Caves for yourself, and if you see Donovan, be sure to ask him about his dance moves. :)

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