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A short journey down
West Bay Road

an on-going perspective on Cayman
from Northwest Point, West Bay
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
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West Bay, 5 April 1997

It occurred to me recently, while making the run between West Bay and George Town, that you can learn a lot about this country from just a few observations as you drive along West Bay Road:

West Bay Road

West Bay Road is only about five and a half miles long. It extends north from the cemetery in George Town (by the intersection of Eastern Avenue and North Church Street) up to where it splits into Northwest Point Road (aka Turtle Farm Road) and Town Hall Road in West Bay. There is a lot to be seen in that short distance.

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 in town.

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 when turning).

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 The Homestead, 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!

Please send your comments and/or suggestions to the

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Last update: 5 April 1997
Copyright © 1997 Don Backstrom