The walk gave us a chance to explore the landward side of Grand Cayman. I enjoyed it a lot – I always like scrambling about the interior of Caribbean islands. While most tourists will stick firmly to the beaches, resorts and towns, these patches of woodland are the last remnants of how these islands must have looked in the pre-Columbus era. Particularly in these drier islands, the vegetation has a fragility which is all too easily disturbed, but get down in amongst it and you see the resilience and adaptability of species for coping with irregular rainfall, thin soils and on ferociously incised geology. I loved Ghut running in BVI – the temporary river channels up and down the mountain were often the best ways to walk through the forest, the periods of heavy rain flushing aside the soil and vegetation to make a clear path in the dry season.
Ready to sail
Soaking up the rum and atmosphere
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But of course, what one thinks of when you hear the word Caribbean is sand sea and sun, and for our final night on the island, we were taken on a sunset cruise across the North Sound. Most of the delegates boarded two catamarans and headed out into the open water. It was your traditional booze cruise, we’d help ourselves to a cocktail or beer and settle down on the benches or on the net straddling the two hulls. Everyone was so relaxed and chatty the time passed quickly. Here, rarely in the Caribbean, we were at sea but almost surrounded by island and the sun sank below the mangroves to our west, picking out the straggly branches of their canopies. The mangroves had been bashed about by the hurricane that had made me evacuate the year before and , like many trees on Cayman, were taking time to regenerate.
In semidarkness we alighted at a dock close to one of those magical restaurants that exist across the Caribbean. A welcoming building opens up on to the sand, the tables perfectly set on the beach (how come they never get sand on every item), lights wound up the tree trunks and set out on poles in the shallows to shimmer against the darkening surface. We had a great party there. Then it was socks and shoes or sandals off again and wade back to the boats. We sat glowing as the catamarans chugged us back over to the hotel; no better way to spend a night in the Caribbean.
Sunset over the lagoon
Perfect dinner location
Ready for dinner
The party started at Heathrow. Now normally I am used to heading over to the airport, sipping a coffee and a Danish while reading the paper and waiting to board, then settling down for hours of movie watching and eating from plastic trays. Rarely do I have more than a fleeting conversation with any of my flying neighbours, infrequently I might travel with a colleague. But this time there was a contingent of about twenty people from UK institutions that were all travelling on the plane, as well as the Crown Dependencies of Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey (the makeup of UK territories is quite complex) as well as several from Gibraltar and the South Atlantic who were connecting through London . British Airways only fly every couple of days to Cayman Islands and this was the one which most closely coincided with the conference. So it really was no big surprise to start seeing familiar faces as I headed to the gate.
Conservationists from all over the world
Once on board there was a party atmosphere; I wondered what the effect we had on the other 100 or so passengers either heading with us to Cayman or going on to Turks and Caicos where the flight was scheduled to head off to once we had been dumped off. I suppose it was a bit like a polite version of a rugby team or stag weekend group.
It meant that before we even reached the hotel we had gelled as a group. Once there we met the Caribbean delegates and a couple of others from other parts of the world , and we were ready to start the party. Oh, and conduct some serious conversation about conservation to boot.
There were one or two others, already booked out on the handful of flights left to leave that morning. As I was heading back I wanted to speak to reception. They were still being quite forceful about getting rid of me – they did not want the responsibility of looking after me. The desk to assist with flight changes was still functioning and I talked to this guy for a while. I would have been happy to go as long as I could carry on immediately. Trouble was the BA option from Cayman would not leave at the earliest for four more days anyway. If I took any of the other planes leaving, I could still end up being stranded in the wrong place for days on end waiting for a seat back to the UK. To add to the complication, I was due back on another job in Mauritius in less than a week’s time.
In the end there was a chance – Delta were flying out in the next couple of hours with a route that would get me to Atlanta with a couple of hours to make the connection to the BA flight. But he could only help me to book the Delta flight. I had to go online and look at changing the BA flight. If there was a problem on either leg, I would end up with an expensive mistake. As it was I had to shell out over 400 pounds to get on the Delta flight, on top of what had already been quite an expensive flight to Cayman. But it would get me home. The deal was done; but I had to get to the airport immediately as they were already checking people in. I asked the hotel to prepare my bill then ran to my room, piled my belongings in the case and rushed back. While I was paying off the bill, someone was grabbing me a taxi, and then I was away.
A couple of groups were left in the hotel from the conference. One were the Jamaicans. The hurricane was heading towards their shores already and no flights were going into Kingston or Montego Bay. The others were those whose connections were not easy. These included a couple of good friends and colleagues, Craig Batstone and Renee Babb from Barbados. On their last night in town they joined me at a meal further along the strip and we watched the sky carefully. I’d heard about the way that clouds start to elongate as the storm approaches and all start to move in a very regular direction. You know how clouds at different levels can often be at different speeds and heading sometimes in vastly different directions – here they were striped across the sky all heading south westwards, and at a fair speed. Even down on the ground now, you could feel the hot wind, and dust was starting to swirl up in courtyards and from the beach and building site sand all around us.
Time for a drink with Renee
I went to bed that night resolved to sit the storm out. A letter had been put through by the staff saying that I could stay in the hotel, but the hotel would not be insured if anything happened to me. The main dining rooms had been closed and we were to take a breakfast in one of the conference rooms. It was sensible idea; it had no windows and was in the centre of the complex, so if you were going to have a congregation of people, it was likely to be the safest location.
There was not much of a congregation that morning. There were the Jamaicans who had had a worrying night contacting their friends and relatives back home where the storm had already hit. It had not been hurricane force, but the rain had flooded many of the rivers, the valleys and the coastal areas. Basically where most people lived.