Billy – “Go to hell!”
Winifred – “Oh! I’ve been there, thank you. I found it quite lovely.”
Grand Cayman’s number one land based tourist attraction has to be Hell, some black lime stone formations of the West side of the island. The name apparently came about because, this one time, someone, said the place looked like hell … and with that stroke of wordsmithery wisdom a new tourist hot spot was created. Slightly ironic that this Hell is located in the hyper religious Cayman Islands. To really appreciate the wonder of the limestone formations you need at least 60 seconds, they are not particularly spectacular. The real genius of hell lies in the fire red gift shop. Dare to walk in the door and you are greeted by the devil himself who has no end of hell-themed knick knacks and puns for his guests. I am pretty sure it was the same devil from the classic party scene from Hocus Pocus and I spent the whole trip in character as a besotted Sarah. The best bit about Hell (those are words I never thought I would say) is that you can send a postcard with a stamp from Hell Post Office.
I loved the touristy, kitsch of Hell. If this is what the real Hell is like, I better start being a bit naughtier!
The one thing all tourists have to do when they come to Grand Cayman is go to Stingray City!
I had a day to spare after my trip to Panama and with no cool locals to hang out with, I decided to disguise myself as a tourist and go on an excursion to Stingray City. Stingray City is a shallow sandbar where dozens of Stingrays live. I got on a boat with 50 other tourists and sailed out to North Sound. I hadn’t seen Grand Cayman by water before. An island like Grand can only really be appreciated from the water. It was a gorgeous, sunny, calm day. I spent the sail window shopping for multi million dollar mansions.
When we got to Stingray City there was a few other boats there, which I had expected. The more the merrier I say! Lots of tourists, means lots of money for Cayman. Obviously the stingrays congregate there because that is where they get fed. Each boat comes ready with a vat of fish for the stingrays. With all the visitors giving them squid all day long I am surprised they are not morbidly obese, dragging themselves around the bottom of the sea. When you get in the water you really are interacting with the stingrays. They swim around you, trying to get food, whipping you with your tail if you happen to be in between them and the food. Some of them are pretty massive. If you hold their food outside of the water, they will jump on top of you to get it. The stringrays really like that squid. There was one particularly docile stingray, let’s call her Betty, who seemed to be the pet of our tour guide. She seemed happy enough giving everyone a kiss and posing for pictures. I gave her a kiss (on the lips, no tongue) and let her get on my back, which didn’t feel altogether unpleasant. The stingrays seem happy enough. They are in the sea, roaming wild. There is nothing keeping them in that spot. If they want to swim off elsewhere they can do. Why would they though? Those stingrays have a complimentary all-you-can-eat buffet every day. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me!
After Stingray City, we had a chance to go on two snorkeling stops. I was pleasantly surprised by how impressive the reef was. The sea was calm and the visibility was perfect that day. I dived off the boat, swam a little bit away from the crowd and found myself face to face with a turtle! He was lazily bobbing around. I kept out of his way and he didn’t spot me following him around. I really love turtles and it is so good to see them in the wild. It means the conservation efforts are working. Turtles always seem so chilled out, although I’m not sure if I think that because I have watched Finding Nemo 20 times. There was lots of tropical little fishes playing in the second reef we visited. The only bummer of the day was my bust underwater camera. I must invest in a new one because I missed out on some great photos that day. A great excuse to go back!
I love Grand Cayman … Can you tell?
I really love Panama City. It is a great mix of old and new, chic and shabby. The whole place is just so cool. It has a very European mixed with Latin vibe. In that way it reminded me a lot of San Juan, another great place I had the pleasure to visit this year. It is very much my sort of place. A cool, upcoming cosmopolitan metropolis. Everyone I met was super friendly and welcoming.
Casco Viejo is the historic part of town. Just a short cab ride away from the Hard Rock Hotel but it felt a million miles away from the shiny sky scrapers and traffic of the Financial District. It is currently under massive renovation, with crumbling shacks next to beautifully restored colonial buildings and picturesque cathedrals. You can tell that piles of money is going in to upgrade the city and I anticipate some great changes. Cool young professionals fill up the areas bars and restaurants. Head to another side of the city and you can see harbors filled with rows and rows of beautiful yachts. A great place for millionaire spotting. The shopping is great too, with insanely low duty-free prices.
I would love to go back to Panama City one day. I want to party in the city, and explore the close by natural wonders. I could even see myself wanting to stay in Panama for a while. It is a great base for traveling around Central and South America. I have to go back anyway. When I got home I realised I had forgotten to do the one thing you must do in Panama … buy a Panama hat!
Panama is undoubtedly most famous for its Canal. While I was there I knew I would have to go see it. I love an excursion, and I managed to pull myself away from my suite long enough to book a tour at the Hard Rock Hotel Concierge Desk. I didn’t think I was going to have the most exciting day of my life … and I was right! But at least I can say I have been to the Panama Canal now, great dinner table fodder.
I hopped on the tour bus and the guide started to give the tour in Spanish. Not a problem to me, I could follow some of what was being said and, to be honest, I wasn’t massively interested. The guide quickly noticed that I was a bit fairer than all of the other passenger onboard. “You?” she pointed at me,”You speak English?”. “Yes I do … but I am fine..” I started to say as the whole bus looked at me. “OK so I will have to say everything twice”. Great …. way to ruin the trip for all the other Latino passengers. When I told her I was from Scotland she exclaimed on the microphone “You must be so hot”. “Well no … I live in the Caribbean” I started to say, but then she kept saying it again and again in English and in Spanish. “Um yeah OK I am really hot” I said eventually and mimed wiping sweat off my face. She laughed, the bus laughed. We did this skit maybe 15 times throughout the day. Truth be told, I was a little chilly. Little Cayman in the summer is exceptionally hotter than Panama was. But everyone liked to laugh at the pale hot girl and who am I to deny a bus filled with tourists of a little comedy. The guide would point at a building and talk for 3 minutes about it in Spanish, as all the other passengers looked out the window riveted. Long after we had driven past, she would point at me, “You. Scotland. Museum.” It was not the most educational tour I have ever been on.
This years marks the 100 year anniversary of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans making it crucial to trading and making Panama a lot of money. About 13,000 ships a year use the canal every year. They each pay a toll, the largest of which was almost half a million dollars. The canal knocks about 8000 miles off the journey between New York and California. We visited the visitors centre which leads on to the viewing deck where you can watch the ships go through the locks. Really really slowly go through the locks. If you are into watching boats moving really slowly you will love the Panama Canal Viewing Deck. Kudos to the English speaking announcer. “WHAT’S UP PANAMA??!! In just 12 minutes time we are going to see a ship go through the lock. ARE Y’ALL READY?”. I felt like I was waiting for Jay-Z not Laid Back, a 50 foot yacht, to come past.
It takes a long time to go through the locks, about 8 hours in total. This is not just because it obviously takes a while to raise a massive ship 85 foot, but a specially trained ship captain has to come on board and navigate through the canal. For a big boat it can be a tight journey. I held my breath while one massive tanker went through and it looked like there was an inch of space between the side of the boat and the canal walls. I have to admit, that was a little exciting! For economical reasons, they have several boats go through the lock at the same time. The biggest ones go first, so we seen a massive tanker, followed by two medium sized ships and then a cute little fishing dinghy at the end. About 52 million gallons of fresh water is used each time a ship goes through the canal. So basically, I will never feel guilty about leaving the tap running when I brush my teeth ever again.
The visitors centre is great. Lots of movies and interactive exhibits, some unnecessary creepy wax models. Clearly a lot of money and love has gone into it. I managed to fill in all the information about Panama that I had missed from my “bilingual” tour.
The whole experience had a very School- Trip feel about it. I love a bit of sight-seeing and it is important to me to experience all different facets of a country. Panama is very proud of their canal, as they should be. I could not go to Panama and not see what they are most famous for, one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.
This summer I headed off to Panama for a vacation. Why did I pick Panama? To be honest the day before I booked my flight I didn’t even know Panama was a country. I knew of the Panama Canal, but that was it. Every year, I like to go to one new country, Panama was going to be my 5th new country of 2014. Cayman Airways runs a direct flight from Grand Cayman to Panama City in the summer. I did my research out found out Panama City is a really up and coming metropolis. I was getting little bored of island life and I wanted to go to a city. With people. And no sand. Panama also has its very own Hard Rock Hotel which to me, seems like the coolest hotel ever to stay in. I was sold! I was going to Panama!
The Hard Rock Hotel is in the heart of Panama’s Financial District surrounded by other skyscrapers. After, months of beach life I could have sworn I was in Manhattan. The lobby was how I pictured it would be, filled with cool looking staff, music memorabilia (squeal it’s Ricky Martin’s belt!) and banging tunes. I had booked a basic room and was determined to get upgraded to a suite. At the front desk there was two receptionists, a woman and a young guy. Now, please don’t judge me from this moment on … the woman was free and was trying to get my attention. I pretended I couldn’t see her and busied myself “finding something in my bag” until the guy was free. I flashed him my biggest smile and walked over. His name badge said he was a big fan of a World Famous DJ who I have never seen. “Oh my gosh, I love him too. I seen him live in Ibiza. He was awesome”. With that … the upgrade was mine.
Not only was I upgraded to a gorgeous suite, with a bathroom the size of my apartment, a jacuzzi bath and two balconies overlooking the city, I was given the Blondie themed suite. One of my idols Debbie Harry was all over the walls keeping me company and bringing up my cool points.
On my first night, I was in the elevator heading to the bar, when a Madonna impersonator walked in. I was in the Hard Rock Hotel, in Panama City, with Aerosmith playing, standing next to a Desperately Seeking Susan era Madonna. Probably one of the most Rock and Roll moments of my life.
I really loved the Hard Rock Hotel. Every night I went to the live music bar and drank cocktails. I got free drinks credit when I booked so it would have been rude not to. Breakfast was included too and the buffet was awesome. There is a great mall just next door. I went to Panama mid-week and the hotel was pretty quiet. When I went to the pool during the day it was empty. The hotel clientele was almost exclusively Latin Businessmen which I had no complaints about!
I wanted to stay in my suite in the Hard Rock forever. Next time I get the chance I would stay in another Hard Rock Hotel for sure.
Keep on Rocking!