The first thing you notice anywhere in Cayman is that, in true British fashion,
we drive on the left here.
Itís not really as confusing as it sounds, except
sometimes when turning corners and entering divided driveways.
It may take some semi-frantic reminders from your navigator, but try to keep in mind that
left is right.
(From the street, the left-hand driveway will be the entryway and the right-hand
drive is the exit.)
Renting "on the left?"
Most rental vehicles have big stickers on the dash with arrows
to remind you to <=DRIVE ON LEFT.
Whatís really fun is when you rent a right-hand drive car with a stick shift!
Then you'll also learn to shift with your left hand, and you will dispair
of ever remembering that the lever on the left of the steering column operates the
windshield wipers, while
the lever on the right is the turn signal!
By the end of your visit, you may even remember to walk around to the
right (and proper) side of the vehicle in order to sit in the driverís seat.
Starting my journey ...
I actually began this particular journey headed south from about a mile up
Turtle Farm Road, so one of the first things I noticed didn't really happen on
West Bay Road proper, but I include it here for obvious reasons.
I came upon a car stopped in the road,
while the driver
carried on a conversation with someone at the side of the road. Anyone who has read
Herman Woulkís wonderful novel, Donít Stop the Carnival,
or traveled in other parts of the Caribbean will immediately recognize this as typical
of the Caribbean in general.
Some say that this habit, along with that of
walking in rather than beside the road,
is a hold-over from the days when there were very
few vehicles in the islands and these tendencies did not present a problem.
Today, however, with the ever increasing number of vehicles on the roads,
it does present a problem.
One must always drive with the thought in the back of ones mind that
around any bend in the road may be a car blocking the road
or a pedestrian walking in the road.
Even if the obstruction is not on your side of the road,
the oncoming traffic may be, as it tries to avoid that obstacle!
Other Obstacles ...
The next challenge to face as my progress continued along the road was a cyclist,
and there are lots of them in Cayman.
People from every walk of life and every age
group ride bicycles here. Some do so for exercise, some to train for races,
some because it is the most economical form of transportation,
some because they lost their right to drive in one too many cocktails,
and some because it really is the fastest way to negotiate West Bay Road
(or any road leading into George Town) during rush hour and/or avoid the parking problem
For whatever reason they ride, they are
a force to reckon with.
The average, law-abiding cyclist who rides on the proper side of the road with
the traffic must still be avoided when overtaken by a car, and he is not above
zooming past grid-locked traffic on either the left or the right (so watch out
Turning to the right can be particularly challenging for the cyclist, as well,
as he sits in the middle of the road with traffic speeding by in both directions
while he waits for an opportunity to make his turn. When you add to the equation those
cyclists (and motor scooterists) who scorn the law and ride on the
wrong side of the road, weave in and out of traffic, dart across the road,
and ignore stop signs and traffic lights, you can have a real hazard.
Back to my journey ...
But I digress! As I drove through West Bay, I passed
The Pink House,
as it used to be called, or
as it is called now.
One of the most photographed buildings in the Cayman Islands, it is built of wattle
and duab in the old Caymanian style, with the cook room out back, a wide porch
trimmed with "gingerbread" in front, a sand yard all around, and a tin roof
surrounded by gutters piped into a cistern to supply water to the house.
(Although the hotels and condos along West Bay Road all have "city water"
piped in from the desalination plant,
many local homes still rely on cisterns and wells for their water.)
Continuing my journey south along West Bay Road, I left behind the largely
residential community of West Bay and began the trek down Seven Mile Beach,
lined with public beaches, condos, office complexes, shopping centers, and hotels.
Although there is very little here that is distinctly Caymanian or that would
distinguish the area from any other upscale beach vacation destination,
it still tells a part of the story of the Cayman Islands.
Looking south from the beach ...
As I passed the Public Beach, a whole panoply caught my eye.
I glimpsed the cruise ships at anchor in the harbor, which reminded me
that tourism is the number one industry in these islands.
(It also reminded me to stay out of downtown George Town and to avoid heading
in the direction of town around 3:00 in the afternoon, when every bus and taxi
on the island is carrying passengers back to their ships in preparation for departure!)
I could also see dive boats on their moorings and a cargo ship heading into port,
laden with all of the commodities that we buy, sell, and use on this island.
(Very little is actually produced in Cayman. Almost everything is imported.)
Fading into the horizon was a British naval vessel, which underlines the fact
that The Cayman Islands are a British Crown Colony, and that Grand Cayman
is a popular stopping place for both British and U.S. Coast Guard and Navy
vessels plying the Caribbean. (Cayman, in fact, has a long history associated
with the sea and supplying and trading with passing ships, but thatís another
story for another day!)
And above all this, a Cayman Airways 737 was on final approach in the blue sky
above the harbor, bringing another load of visitors, returning residents, mail,
and freight to the island.
Just another day in Paradise!
Growing but still clean and friendly ...
As I approached the most heavily congested part of Seven Mile Beach
and West Bay Road, I was stuck anew by the cleanliness and courtesy that are still
so much a part of our islands
No litter lay beside the roads, even near the
fast food establishments, and drivers frequently paused to let pedestrians,
cyclists, and turning vehicles cross the road or pull out of driveways.
(Keep this in mind when you are tempted to pass a stopped vehicle on the left.
Although this is an accepted practice when the vehicle is turning right,
be sure to look for a turn signal. Otherwise, the driver may not be turning,
but rather letting someone else pass.)
If you find yourself temporarily stuck turning across traffic, you might notice
an on-coming local driver slow and flash their lights at you. You are being given
the right of way, go ahead and make your turn. (However, you might not get this courtesy
if you're still indicating your intended turns with your wipers!).
Horns are not often heard in Cayman, except the occasional toot of thanks or
acknowledgment. Hitchhiking is still a common mode of transportation.
Continuing along south ...
In my drive, I passed dive shops, clothing shops, souvenir shops, sundry shops,
art and photo galleries, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, a bookstore,
car and scooter rental agencies, miniature and regular golf courses,
liquor stores, ice cream and frozen yogurt shops, a pharmacy, the cinema,
a gym, banks, jewelry stores, a post office, and Blockbuster Video!
Theyíre all there on West Bay Road.
I saw children in their school uniforms,
business professionals in their wool suits (believe it or not!), old women
in their house dresses and slippers, and tourists and locals in their shorts
and T-shirts and cotton dresses and slacks.
Unfortunately, I also saw a few tourists on the street in their swimsuits.
(When you do visit, please remember that in Cayman, cover-ups, shorts,
or shirts should be worn over swimwear when anywhere other than the beach.)
There were people of all races and colors, all ages, and
all faiths, and almost all of them spoke English.
Here we are ...
Itís quite a trip, that five and a half miles we call West Bay Road.
In appearance it is very different from the rest of Grand Cayman, and in some ways,
it is all the same. Itís all pretty amazing, when you think about it.
I hope youíll have the opportunity to make that trip some day soon
and learn a little bit more about the history and character of the Cayman Islands.
Thereís no place else like it!
In addition to these essays, the wench also posts frequent short writings about her
View from West Bay.
Check out the latest post!