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Blog Home > Archive (May, 2017)

One of the things I love most about vacationing on Grand Cayman is that I get to intentionally leave the stresses of life far behind me, even if it’s only for a week or so. It’s an opportunity to decompress, let go, and fully detach from my daily routine back home. I certainly do my fair share of snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and other fun activities on the island, but what I really look forward to are the soothing sounds of the rhythmic ocean tide on 7 mile beach, or a breath-taking West Bay sunset from a condo at Christopher Columbus Condos. I have discovered that it’s the simple experiences like these that are healing for the mind, body, and soul.

In addition to feeding my senses with the natural beauty of the island, I also make a point during each visit to treat myself to a full body massage at one of the many excellent spa options that GC has to offer. There are many that suggest there is scientific evidence for the healing benefits of massage therapy. I’m not sure if that is true, but I can tell you anecdotally that it definitely works for me.

Up until my recent visit to Grand Cayman, I would typically choose a “deep tissue” treatment over the traditional “Swedish” style massage. However on our last trip to Cayman, I was introduced to my first authentic “Thai massage” at Touch of Thai Day Spa and Salon.

Thai massage, or “Thai yoga massage” is a very ancient form of therapy that was originally practiced over 2,500 years ago. Unlike many other treatments, Thai massage requires you to be fully dressed (in very loose clothing that resemble pajamas) and uses no oils. Instead the practitioner uses intense acupressure, assisted yoga poses, and deep stretching to release the body’s tension and achieve maximum relaxation.

At first (and in full disclosure), I found the acupressure to be a bit excruciating, as the practitioner used her elbows, knees and thumbs to pinpoint specific areas of my body. I began to question my judgement and wonder what I had gotten myself into. But as she started combining the acupressure with coordinated stretching positions, my muscles seemed to more fully cooperate, the pain progressively subsided, and I could literally feel the tension leaving my body. For the next 45 minutes, I was able to get into a deep and relaxed state that can only be achieved with a well orchestrated massage. Upon completion, I was offered some fresh herbal tea and allowed to sit and reflect comfortably in a quiet room until I was ready to leave. Overall, I felt a tremendous sense of well-being and clarity, and my body felt fully rejuvenated.

Although this was my first Thai massage, I knew at that moment that it would not be my last. It certainly was not the experience I was anticipating, but the end result was better than any imagined. What I typically tell others is “If you can make it past the first 10 minutes, you are guaranteed one of the greatest relaxation experiences of your life.”

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Have you ever been on a vacation or taken part in an activity where you can pinpoint a specific person who was vital in making the experience a memory you will cherish forever? For myself and many others visiting Stingray City for the first time, Luana Soro is that person. 

I met up with Luana at the Cayman Island Yacht Club in West Bay where a big white catamaran named Allura was waiting for its first tour group of the day. This particular morning, the group included 33 cruise ship passengers making their stop in Grand Cayman.

Although her official job is a photographer for Happy Snaps photography, a company that she co-owns with a friend from high school and two other Caymanian partners, Luana started the trip off in the role of a tour guide.

As she welcomed everyone on the boat, she quickly revealed her personality, making the experience enjoyable before a single stingray was spotted (“Sir, I love your purse.”).

Once everyone was settled in, Luana went over the basic ground rules of the boat and introduced us to the rest of the crew - Captain Glen and Captain Kirk (yes, really) - and informed everyone that she would give us further instructions once we got closer to the sandbar.

As we cruised to our destination, Luana shared that she used to be in dental work and began taking underwater pictures for fun while diving in Vancouver, where the water is equally clear but a lot colder than Cayman! After what she calls a "quarter life crisis," Luana moved to the Cayman Islands, switched career paths, and after a short 3 weeks on the island, she met her husband, "Australian Andrew!"

When our catamaran was almost to the sandbar, Luana began to explain to various small groups on board what to expect when we arrived at Stingray City and more importantly, what to expect from the stingrays themselves. Maybe somewhat surprisingly, this explanation was another example of how Luana made the experience exciting and memorable. As she was talking, you could tell how passionate she was about the animals we were about to see, affectionately referring to her stingray Dottie, who she has been holding for 9 years. You can tell the difference from one stingray to another by their markings. Dottie, as you probably already guessed, has dots on her back. 

Finally, we arrived at Stingray City where a few other charter boats and their passengers were in the water. I sat back for a bit, observing Luana take pictures while Captain Glen prepped Dottie for the perfect photo opportunity. It was during this time that I noticed something I consider a testament to Luana. As passengers from other boats were screaming and squealing in fearful reaction to these unknown animals surrounding them, there was not one single person from my group that yelled or seemed scared. In fact, myself and the other 34 passengers were completely calm compared to the other groups. 

Why? Because during the 45 minute ride to Stingray City, Luana shared sentiments like this: "They decide to come here, they come to see us and then they go home. They choose to come back and choose to trust you." If they want to be there and like being around people, then that means these stingrays will be friendly towards humans! 

After everyone had a turn, we loaded back up on the boat and Luana pulled up the pictures she took on her computer for people to look through and pick their favorites for purchase.
From her warm, welcoming personality to her love to be in the water and surrounded by the creatures that live there, Luana is truly Caymankind.

Check out these amazing shots she captured of myself and a friend during our trip: 

More fun facts about Luana:

  • She was born and raised in Sardinia, Italy and speaks Italian
  • She took pictures at Stingray City all the way up to the 8 1/2 month mark of her pregnancy! 
  • One of her favorites memories is of a 82 and 91 year old couple celebrating their wedding anniversary on the island and having the time of their life at Stingray City with 3 generations of their family! 
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