After leaving the Panama Canal we headed southeast towards Aruba and docked in the capital city of Orajestand. Aruba is only 18 miles north of Venezuela, and geologists believe it was attached to South America before breaking free millions of years ago. It is really dry here, unlike most of the Caribbean. They get less then 20 inches of rain a year and the landscape is strewn with cactus.
The first inhabitants were the Caquetio Amerindians. They migrated from Venezuela to escape attacks by the Carib Tribes around 1,000 AD. Sea currents and the ceaseless trade winds coming from the east made canoe travel to other Caribbean Islands nearly impossible, so they stayed put.
In 1499, Spanish explorers arrived, and started populating the island soon after. They called it an “island of giants”, because the natives were much larger then the Europeans of the day. Because it barely rains, plantations were never developed, and there was no need for slaves. The natives lucked out on that one. In 1626, The Netherlands acquired the island.
This climate is good for tourism because visitors can reliably expect hot, sunny weather. The island is 20 miles long and 6 miles wide. There are 102,000 inhabitants and it gained full independence in 1996. Most importantly, the island lies outside of “Hurricane Alley”, which is a huge selling point for the local real estate agents.
I was not in the market for diamonds, gold, or botox injections, and sautéing on the beach is not high on my list. There are no archeological sites, cultural experiences, or interesting geological formations either. There used to be a “rock bridge” that would have been worth checking out, but it collapsed in 2005. It was fascinating to watch the local merchants coax customers into their lairs by holding signs that said FREE at the front door. Once inside, they were never seen again. Other then observing this modern anthropological behavior, Aruba did not hold much interest for me.
I had trouble finding any photo opportunities until Steve spotted some resplendent iguanas hanging out in a small grove of trees by the water. They were all about 3 feet long. Check out the row of spines on their backs. Each pattern is unique, like fingerprints.
We wandered a few blocks from the dazzling shopping district and into a quiet neighborhood where we spotted this soulful mural on the crumbling wall of a burned out home. Is it “out of place” or in the “perfect place”? I enjoyed chewing on that question as we headed back to the ship.
We enjoyed another day at sea before arriving in George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands on Grand Cayman. This is the final port of our amazing journey. We have been at sea for 93 days.
The three Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the western Caribbean Sea. Grand Cayman is 272 miles south of Cuba. The population is 60,000.
There are no archaeological traces of any indigenous people ever living here, which I found very odd. But, the island is completely flat, so it would have been tough to spot from a canoe at any distance. It is 22 miles long and 8 miles wide. It remained largely uninhabited until the 1600’s when a hodgepodge of pirates, shipwrecked sailors, and deserters from Oliver Cromwell’s army in Jamaica made temporary homes here.
England took formal control of the Cayman Islands, along with Jamaica, as a result of the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Although the first permanent settlement was not until 1730. With settlement, came the need for slaves, and many were brought from Africa. The first census taken in 1802 showed 933 residents on Grand Cayman; 545 were slaves. When slavery was abolished here in 1833, there were 950 Blacks of African ancestry enslaved by 116 white families of English ancestry.
The Caymans have historically been a tax-exempt destination. In 1794, the locals rescued the crews of ten British merchant ships, who struck a reef and ran aground in rough seas. The incident is known as the Wreck of the Ten Sails. One of the ships carried a member of the royal family. Legend says that King George III rewarded the island with a promise never to introduce taxes as compensation for their generosity. While this remains a popular legend, the story is not true. In practice, the government has never levied an income tax, capital gains tax, or wealth tax, making it a popular haven for the filthy rich from around the world. There are hundreds of banks, investment firms, and insurance companies based here that drive the economy.
There were two other large cruise ships in port with us, so 12,000 people were jockeying for sidewalk space on the shady side of the street in George Town. It was super hot and humid. And, other then drinking champagne with a banker or shopping for diamonds there was not much to do in town. We considered going for a stroll on a beach, but the skies turned ominous and a biblical rain started and never let up. So much rain, that it flooded the decks of Queen Victoria and the elevators had to be shut down for several hours due to water accumulation in the shafts. I’m glad I didn’t know about the disturbing leakage problems until the end of the trip.
Before the skies opened up, “eagle eye” Steve spotting my ONE photo opportunity hidden in the high branches of a Breadfruit tree. A rare blue iguana, that started to change color right before our eyes! Amazing! I couldn’t wait for the complete transformation, because he was on the move and a nearby lighting strike got us moving too. My last photo ends up being my favorite wildlife shot. That’s kismet.
We will be back home in two days. I hope you have enjoyed our incredible journey. I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions. What was your favorite port?
Cheers everyone, and thank you for reading!