A Tale of Two Sisters - Page 2

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Allie Oops!
When the boat pulls into Little Cayman Beach Resort, Erin and I race up to our room to shower and change in time to watch the parade. Jim, the resort's manager, had made sure we knew about it the night before while he served as MC of karaoke night at the Tipsy Turtle, the hotel's outdoor bar. Today is Mardi Gras on Little Cayman and soon we discover that most of the island's 100-plus residents -- iguanas do outnumber people nearly 20 to 1 -- are in the parade.

This is no show-me-your-?#%!@ kind of parade, but rather one where floats are filled with mermaids and mermen, where each of the island's four babies are centerpieces of elaborate tableaus created around their prams (Jim's toddler is a diver in the making, complete with plush-toy fish and sharks dangling from strings and slippers fashioned as fins), where a group of women adorned with fairy dust and gossamer butterfly wings appear as though they may take flight. We are witnessing a community engaged in their fantasy of island life. I wonder what it would be like to have made the decisions, to have ridden the current, that led them here.

We follow alongside the parade collecting beads until it ends at the big parking lot beside the "airport" and the lovely plantation-house-style cottage that houses the Hungry Iguana, the restaurant/bar that for now is mostly filled with sea breeze. Out back we spot a large swing hanging from a sea-grape tree and can't resist. No sooner have we settled aboard when the seat flips backwards, our skulls smacking the hardpan that's hidden beneath a thin layer of sand. Shocked silence, a few tears, then hysterical laughter. The barmaid runs out with bags of ice for our heads, and Erin and I soothe our nerves (and our egos) with a round of Cayman-brewed Stingray on the covered porch overlooking the sea. Beside us are the butterfly women, now toting a trophy.

A Date With Jerry
Head bumps or not, there's no doubt we're diving in the morning when we return to Bloody Bay Wall on the north side of the island. On deck is Marylin's Cut, swimming distance west of Mixing Bowl. That's where the grouper Jerry and Mini-Me live, both known for their tameness around divers. The story has it Jerry was once Mini-Me to a larger grouper named Ben who found his way onto someone's dinner plate. So now it's Jerry, a 3-foot Nassau grouper, who has assumed the senior position. It's time to find out for our selves.

We cruise down the wall, which is encrusted with rope, pipe and azure vase sponges, descending to 50 feet where a giant grouper -- no doubt Jerry -- swims directly to us, often coming within arm's length, allowing itself to be gently touched by outstretched hands. Erin eventually swims off, and she's inspecting something on the wall when Jerry swims up beside her. Diver. Grouper. Both are entranced; Erin knows she is privileged to be here, now, observing whatever is hiding on the wall, while opportunistic Jerry is hoping for an easy meal. It's a long while before he gives up and swims away. Regretfully, we ascend to the shallows.

There, our divemaster, Dottie, in her psychedelic-colored dive skin, is rubbing Mini-Me's chin for a small group of divers. We back away from the crowd and fin back over the ledge.  There's Jerry, luring us back down the wall. The next 10 minutes are magic. A moray eel is hunting in broad daylight, its body a ribbon weaving in and out of shadows; a pair of reef sharks cruise past; a turtle captivates; and a French angel swims right up to my mask, as though checking to see if I'm OK. Erin and I are positively giddy about this unexpected gift -- a string of moments, each better than the next.

Given our wonky profile, we stick to the sun-dappled shallows the next dive (cleaning stations and macro galore!) and then take the afternoon off to join LCBR manager Jim and his family plus a few other guests on an outing to Sandy Point, at the far east of the island. There we find a white-sand beach flecked with pink, like the confetti cakes of our childhood birthdays, surrounded by some A+ snorkeling inside the reef: We find enormous lobsters, tons of reef fish and healthy coral that's free of sand. A small group of expats are barbecuing beside the single thatched palapa and we join them in the shade for a while. What makes a couple from the Midwest pack it all in and become Caymanians (or, as I like to say, Caymaniacs)? The answer, I soon realize, is exactly what we're experiencing: days spent on and beneath the gin-clear water, luxuriating on this pillow-soft beach that jetties into the sea, fresh seafood, days passed without ever wearing shoes.

I know we both want to stay longer. We'd make a party right here on the beach, shop for provisions and invite anyone we meet with a good vibe to join us. But we have plane tickets booked and spots reserved on dive boats on Cayman Brac. I watch Erin comb the beach for shells and pick up my pace so I can check out her finds. Little Cayman has already given us her gifts. 

I wonder what her sister will give us.

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