In 1794, a convoy of 10 British ships, led by the HMS Convert, misjudged their location and ran aground on a reef at Gun Bay off the east end of Grand Cayman. Foundering offshore, the ships were helpless against the pounding surf and began to sink. From the shore, local Caymanians and settlers of this young British territory saw the tragedy unfolding and mounted a sea rescue, taking to the sea in small fishing boats to save all but eight of the sailors. Legend has it that one of the passengers in the convoy was a member of King George III’s royal family and his saving resulted in a decree from the monarch that the Cayman Islands would never have to pay tax to the Crown, as thanks for their bravery and selflessness.
Today, the part of this Gun Bay story that most people associate with the Cayman Islands is the country’s tax-free status, and the image of the islands is of shady offshore corporations and big banks sheltering billions. But after visiting the islands, it is the legacy of kindness that remains a lasting impression. The blending of cultures — Africans, Indians, Hispanics and Europeans — on these islands in the dead center of the Caribbean Sea has conspired to create an environment of cooperation that is hard to find almost anywhere else in the world. This spirit is seen everywhere, from the roti shops of George Town, where white-collar bankers clink bottles of Caybrew with dreadlocked Rastas, to the village on Cayman Brac where police turn a blind eye to locals helping Cuban refugees fix their battered boat.
The blending of cultures — Africans, Indians, Hispanics and Europeans — on these islands in the dead center of the Caribbean Sea has conspired to create an environment of cooperation that is hard to find almost anywhere else in the world.
Of course, besides the people, the Cayman Islands are home to some of the most well endowed rocks ever to poke above sea level; they are the supermodels of the Caribbean. The limestone cliffs of Cayman Brac run down the center of that island like the spine of a fossilized sea creature and teem with sea birds and iguanas. Little Cayman is a scrubby spit of bushes and ponds, its beauty hidden just offshore, where steep coral-studded walls drop off into the deep blue sea. And Grand Cayman, beyond the whitewashed colonial buildings of the British Empire, holds miles of pristine beaches, hidden coves and technicolor sunsets.
Over the course of a week, we visited all three islands, diving, dining, fishing and hiking, until we uncovered not only their hidden treasures but also the essence of its people, its cuisine, its adventures and its culture. We caught snapper from 1,000 feet deep that would go on a restaurant’s menu that night, found the wrecked sailboat of a madman washed up on a beach, tasted rum aged on the bottom of the sea and hunted invasive lionfish with spears. Along the way, we ate some very spicy roti, drank some good tropical beer and made a point to watch the sun slip below the horizon each and every day. All this and no taxes? Well that’s just not fair.