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May 27, 2024

Nature's Paradise: A Cayman Brac Travelogue, Part IV

By Kellie Gillespie

Nature's Paradise: A Cayman Brac Travelogue, Part IV By Kellie Gillespie

"Whether you are visiting caves set up for guests (stairs available) or entering the Bluff's rugged environment to seek out "wild" caves, we urge you to step lightly and protect the environment, do not disturb the residents of a cave (if you see hibernating bats, leave immediately!), take safety precautions, and never go into the depths of a cave alone and/or unprepared."

Tuesday is our seventh day on Cayman Brac and we are ready for more adventuring. Even though Lori's jellyfish stings have multiplied and developed into weeping blisters, she is determined to do their scheduled dive that had already been reserved. Joe and I drop them off at the dock with plans to meet them at the bar at noon. We are equipped with two bottles of water, hats, sunscreen and a map, which I unfold as we drive away. We are ready to explore some caves.

Joe's job is to drive on the wrong side of the road. My job is to navigate, but somehow I miss the first turn off for Rebecca's Cave. No matter, we soon come to a sign for the second cave on the agenda: the Bat Cave. There is a handy sign by the side of the road that directs us inland, towards the bluff. As we park and get out of the car, Joe assumes his best Adam West voice and reminds me to lock the bat car and don't forget my bat hat. "Holy Cave Exploration, Batman," I answer. "If there are bats in this cave, I'm out of there." Joe reassures me that bats don't hurt people but I am not convinced.

"Remember that Hitchcock film with the birds that attack people?" I remind him.

"Those were birds, not bats," he says.

"Birds, bats, whatever." I say. "They have wings and fly at you. I'm just warning you that bats freak me out. If bats are flying around, I cannot be responsible for my actions."

Joe goes up the stairs first to look for bats. I am certain there is a reason this cave is called the Bat Cave, like maybe lots of bats live here. It is very big. When Joe gives the all clear I cautiously climb down the stairs into the cave and look around. There is lots of shining light from the large holes in the ceiling, but no bats that I can see. I walk around a little while Joe explores the deep dark crevices in the back, and then comes over to me. "Look," he says, showing me the digital camera. "Bats." I look into the viewfinder of the camera and see little black blobs hanging from the ceiling. "They're sleeping, right?" I ask. "Sure," he answers. "They won't bother you. As long as you're quiet and don't wake them up."

"Well, don't talk, then," I tell him. "Shush."

Joe continues to delve into the dark batty corners of the cave. I stand by the entrance and stay very quiet, ready to bolt outside if anything so much as moves. Joe returns to find me crouched by the steps and he laughs. "Ready to go?" he says. Uh, yes. I've been ready to go since I saw that image of bats hanging in the dark corners of the cave. In fact, I'm not too keen on exploring the other caves, either, but I say nothing. The caves themselves are cool and I want to see them. I just wish I could order mine with no bats.

The next cave is at the end of the island, where the bluff meets the sea. This is just below the lighthouse we hiked to yesterday. There are three sets of rickety ladders leading to this cave, with a big heap of rocks to climb over. As we reach the cave entrance, Joe leading, I notice that we have to climb down several rocks to get into the cave, which means it won't be easy to get out in a hurry. Joe goes off to explore while I stand right by the doorway. I'm getting a creepy feeling in this place. It is very dark, especially further away from the entrance, and it is cold and clammy. I can't even see Joe, who must be taking more pictures of bats without telling me. I take one step and look up. I see something up there, but I can't tell what it is. I take another step, still looking up, and say, "Joe, come here. There's something up th--" when suddenly the thing that I was looking at suddenly swoops down RIGHT AT ME. I take a step back and scream, putting my arms over my head at first to block whatever it is, then I turn around and try unsuccessfully to climb over the rocks in order to get out there. I am still screaming and bonking around the rocks like a pinball when Joe reaches me. He grabs hold of me with both arms.

"Stop," he says, looking at me carefully. "What happened?"

I am borderline hysterical. "O-O-Out," I stutter. "O-Out of here, out, out, m-m-must g-g-get out." I am extremely worried that whatever flew at me before will use its radar to find me and fly at me again. Joe helps me climb over the rocks that block the entrance, then watches me shakily turn around to climb backwards down the first ladder.

"Don't you want to see the rest of the cave?" he asks with a straight face. I look up at him, amazed he would even ask. Shaking my head, I resume climbing down as quickly as I can without falling. I resolve to never enter another Cayman Brac cave again as long as I live. When Joe finally comes down the stairs, he asks what happened. I explain that a bat flew at me, which he doesn't believe at first. "I thought you were going to knock yourself out, the way you were throwing yourself around up there," he tells me. "And the screaming! I'm surprised you didn't wake up all the bats in there."

"There were more bats?" I ask. I look up to see if any others have escaped and were now flying towards us.

"Tons of them," he answers. "But I couldn't get any pictures. I was worried the flash would wake them up and you would really freak out."

We decide to walk down to the beach. According to the map, which I still had in my pocket, there was a blowhole down by the point. This beach is really rocky and the iron shore makes walking difficult. The really odd thing is the amount of trash that is here. There is trash everywhere; soon Joe and I are remarking about the strange things that have washed ashore. Toothbrushes, rope, ice chests, water bottles, food wrappers, pieces of netting, part of a boat  you name it and this shore has it. But the thing that stands out the most is the number of shoes. There are shoes of all kinds and sizes, shoes for men, women and children. There are flip flops, sandals, sneakers, dress shoes (?) and boots. As we head towards the cliff on the end of the island, I notice a small part of the bluff that sticks out from the rest. It is covered with shoes that people have thrown up there. Someone made a sign that says "Shoe Shop," and leaned it up for display. There are about a hundred shoes on this bluff alone, and probably another couple hundred lining the shore. I had no idea that so many people lost so many shoes while at sea.

The blowhole is kind of cool, especially since each wave showers us with a fine mist. There is also a spot where the rocks form a hollow pocket which makes a loud booming sound every time a big wave hits it. I could stay here all morning, listening to the thunderous waves and watching the water shoot out of the blowhole, but I have collected so many rocks and shells along the way that my arms are tired, so we walk back to the car and head down the road. There is one more cave we want to see: Rebecca's Cave.

Even though I have sworn to never enter another cave, this one makes me curious enough to venture inside. The sign outside explains the name. During the big hurricane of 1932, some of the islanders crossed the bluff to hide in the caves on this side of the island. Many people died during this terrible storm, including Rebecca, a 17-month-old girl who was injured on the way. She is buried in this cave. I walk to the entrance and warily look in. It doesn't look like bats are hiding inside. It is very bright and airy here, with several holes in the ceiling. I enter slowly, listening and watching for small things scurrying or flying around, but nothing happens. I walk over to Rebecca's grave, which is covered with concrete and marked with a plaque. I read about Rebecca's short life, think about the pain of losing a child and then notice the side of the grave is covered with something.

"What's that?" I ask Joe.

"Bat guano," he answers.

I turn around and run out. "Don't you want a picture?" he calls after me.

"No," I yell from the safety of the bright sunlight outside the cave. "And I'm ready to go whenever you are."


After stopping at our favorite deli, which also happens to be the only deli on the island, we do a little shopping at the grocery store. On our way home we accidentally take a wrong turn and end up in some sort of governmental complex. I see an old sign in front of a small building and ask Joe to pull up. We can barely read the lettering of the sign, it is so faded, but I am delighted when I finally make it out. "Hey," I say excitedly. "It's the library!" I'm ready to go in right now, but we decide to go home and put away the groceries first. Since we have plenty of time before meeting Dave and Lori, we drive back to check out the library.

It is a tiny place, but very new and clean. We are lucky it is open, since the hours state the library is only available to the public about three hours each day. There is one man reading the paper, and one staff person behind the service desk. While I browse around, noticing the compact reference area, the one computer catalog terminal, the extensive children's area and the sizeable periodical section (for a small library), Joe is asking the staff person about her job.

"Are you the only librarian?" he asks her.

"I'm not a librarian," she quickly answers. "I'm a library assistant."

"Well, are you the only one who works here?"


"You do everything, then?"

"Yes, I check out books. I help people. I do children's story times."

I smile at her. "I'm curious," I say. "I notice there is no sales tax. How do libraries get materials?"

She shrugs. "The government pays."

"But how does the government get money?"

She shrugs again. "I don't know."

Joe and I talk about this as we get into the car. There is no sales tax, no income tax, nothing that I can see to pay for governmental services. Yet, the librarians and teachers and the guys we see painting the white lines on the roads every day must get paid. Without taxes, how does this happen? It was a mystery to us.

Since the museum was close by, we stop in for what we think will be a quick look. It turns out the museum is full of interesting tidbits and artifacts about the history of the island. There are giant conch shells and old pots and jewelry and anchors and old tools and even a replica of a sailing ship. It is a fascinating display, and much better than many museums I've visited in larger towns. We learn about the big hurricane of 1932 when we visit the second floor display. More than 100 people died during that hurricane, mostly because it happened at the end of the season and the locals didn't suspect that the strong winds would turn into such a devastating storm. The display featured many personal accounts of the islanders' experience, with some recorded on tape that we could listen to while looking at the photographs of the damage. Before we leave we stop at the little gift shop and I buy two marble turtles to take home. They are a deal at about five dollars (C.I.) each, and since there is virtually no other shopping here, the only souvenirs I've found so far.

After picking Dave and Lori up at the dock, we are all starving again. On our way to the deli (for the second time that day!), we drive by the Perpetually Closed Liquor Store and, since it's become customary to stop every time we drive by, we pull into the parking lot. Lo and behold! It's open! We are shocked and amazed and need more beer, so we all go in and meet Mr. Foster, the proprietor. He looks to be in his fifties and presents a rather sullen image as a liquor store entrepreneur. Dave tells him that we've driven by almost every day and this is the first time the store has been open. Mr. Foster informs us that he is retired and only opens the store in the afternoons. About two every day, he adds. We exchange looks, everyone no doubt thinking what I am, which is, we've driven by at two, and at three, and at four, and the store is always closed. Since Mr. Foster seems in a bad mood, however, I don't mention this to him.

"Hey," he calls after us as we leave. "You don't want to buy a liquor store, do you?"

Dave and Lori once again had a great time diving. Today they went to the wreck of 330 foot Russian Naval Destroyer. The Brigadier Type II Class Frigate was built in the U.S.S.R. in 1984 and sunk by the Cayman Islands Government in 1996. Originally named #356, it was renamed the Captain Keith Tibbetts after a well-known and honored Brac native and statesman. The wreck sits upright in about 100 feet of water and serves as an artificial reef. Even better, the crew told Lori about some special ointment to use for her jellyfish stings, which seem to have developed their own life forms and taken over her body. She bought some at the dive shop and applies it on the way to the deli.

After lunch and a shower, I am again ready for a nap. As I lie on the cool bed with the fan slowly circling above me, I think about how much I have eaten and slept on this vacation. I'll be lucky to only gain twenty pounds, I think as I drift off to sleep, Joe's hand clasped in mine. I hear Dave and Lori moving around in the living room, getting ready for their own naps. The last thing I remember thinking in this dreamlike half-awake state, is that I hope we saved some dollars to play 31 later, because I'm feeling very lucky today. Very lucky, indeed.

Next: We have a reptile encounter of a different kind, visit a restaurant that caters to sharks, and reluctantly head for home.

Article © Kellie Gillespie. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-07-31
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