CHECKING OUT THE BEACHES AND THE RESCUED IGUANAS

Eileen checks out a blue iguana

DAY THREE (June 13, 2009) — Finally, a Caribbean beach that’s everything a Caribbean beach should be — quaint, with hammocks strung in the palm trees. Crystal clear water perfect for snorkeling, white sand, a first rate beach bar (known for their mud slides) and enough water toys to keep the kids happy — banana boats, kayaks, jet skis, water bikes. Welcome to Rum Point on Grand Cayman’s North Side. No wonder it’s a favorite with locals on Sundays. (www.caymanislands.com)

Tourists in the know like it too. “Seven Mile Beach is too touristy,” explains Marshall Bonds, back for a second year to this part of the island with his wife and family. They’ve rented a condo nearby. “Don’t tell anyone about this place,” he jokes.
Sure the Cayman Islands might be more expensive than Mexico or Jamaica, says his wife Sherry, “but I feel so much safer here.”

“People are so friendly,” adds Ruth Belestra, watching her four year old play in the water. Her family visits twice a year from Ohio, she said. “It is expensive but you get what you pay for and I can relax here.”

There’s also plenty for the kids to learn — from skate camp at the second largest skate park in the world (www.skatecayman.com) to a visit to the Blue Iguana Recovery Center, (www.blueiguana.ky ) where we went this morning before the beach-and a terrific local lunch (grilled snapper and curried chicken) at a North side institution called Over the Edge.

I didn’t know that the Cayman Islands is the only place you’ll find Blue Iguanas — yes, they really are blue. I also didn’t know that 25 years ago, they were nearly extinct, with only about 30 0f them left.

Today, thanks to the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, 298 have now been released in the wild and dozens of others including 120 “hatchlings” born last year live and are nurtured here at this 65-acre park, says John Marotta, the classically trained chef from New Jersey who is now the head warden here. Others have been sent to world-class zoos — the Sand Diego Zoo and Indianapolis Zoo among them.

We meet “Mad Max” and “Biter” who seems to be reading to her nest. We see babies chomping on plants. It is incredible to think that these creatures were nearly extinct. Even more incredible is to realize you can only see them here on this Caribbean island.

Marotta explains that in the wild, maybe two out of 10 eggs would hatch. But here, where the staff collects the eggs and puts them in an incubator, 99 per cent will make it. I feel privileged to have met these creatures. Even the tough-to-impress tweens are impressed.

The boys skip dinner — at a really nice white tablecloth restaurant overlooking the ocean where the sun is setting — to return to the Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park for a few more hours. But they join us for what might be our most unique adventure of the night — kayaking on a luminescent bay. When we put our paddles in the water, it’s as if someone was scribbling with a neon glow-in-the-dark crayon. We drip water down our hands and it glows. The fish glow… the water seems to sparkle. (www.caymankayak.com) Our guide explains that it’s best to see the phenomena when there’s not much moon. How lucky could we be to visit the right time? It’s really an other-worldly experience- kayaking the dark, our strokes “writing” in neon in the water, minnows glowing around us.

We laugh and joke. The tweens, who couldn’t decide whether to forgo their last night at the Skate Park for this, are pleased with themselves. They made the right choice, it seems. Whew.

Next: Ready to kiss a stingray?

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