Day 6 was in the Grand Cayman Islands where we had plans to visit a turtle and dolphin park. I was pretty excited to be able to interact with aquatic animals! I did a dolphin interaction experience when I was about 9 years old in Cancun, Mexico, but I think I was too young to really appreciate it. I also was not brave enough. I actually remember clinging to my mother and getting a bit anxiety over it. I had never experienced being around any sort of exotic animal that young in life, so I was pretty excited to be able to do it again as an adult and kind of redeem myself here.
First of all, Grand Cayman was by far the most BEAUTIFUL stop on this trip, and definitely the wealthiest. There were 5 star hotels and resorts all around the island, not to mention the most tourist friendly, with fast food chains every few miles. The boat actually anchored in the ocean at this stop, so we had to take about a 15 minute tender to the docs. Right outside the docks there was a main street filled with nice restaurants, gift shops, trendy galleries, and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. I feel like there's one of those, everywhere hahaha!
So the turtle/dolphin park was about a 20-30 minute drive from the docks. I was pretty groggy on the way there because I had popped a Dramamine tablet in fear of more nausea ruining my day. Had I known the tender ride was so short, I probably would not have done that. Anyway, we got to the park, and were directed to the turtle portion first. It was so amazing to see the sea turtles, which swam in large clusters in the saltwater pool. You could hear the clacking of their shells as they simulated bumper car motions into each other to get to the food that was dropped in, before their friends got to it. You could purchase turtle food to feed them, but we did not. I did not have to feed a turtle to validate my experience here, things are never cheap at these places.
I just had a great time observing them from over the balcony, their shells glistening and reflecting the sunlight off the water. It was fun to watch and listen to them as they came up for air, peaking their tiny little heads out of the water, letting out an enormous gasps, sucking all the air back in for the next dive. Turtles can spend long durations underwater and surface only to breathe for about 1 - 3 seconds before going back under. They can replace the air in their lungs in one single breath! Green Sea Turtles have been known to swim up to 35 mph, and males are known to spend their entire lives at sea; rarely, if ever, returning to land.
The only two predators the turtle really has to worry about are sharks, and humans, as turtle meat actually remains a traditional dish on the island today, but I will get to that in a little bit! We roamed the giant sea turtle area for a bit, even passed by the tank of Smiley, the islands only living crocodile since the mid-1950s. When they captured her in 2008, they ran DNA testing to discover that she was actually a hybrid between two different species of crocodile. Smiley is a 9 foot Saltwater Crocodile, but can survive in both salt and fresh water. This day it was rather hot, and she was hiding under huge palm leaves, so we didn't stop here for too long.
We soon made our way to the baby turtle wading pool. This was the part I was so excited about and it even gave us a chance to use Avi's new water cam! We had so much fun with these little guys, I really wish that we got to spend more time with them. They only allowed about 4 people in the pool with them at once, so things felt a bit rushed here. We got to pick them up though, by their shell only, and take some photos with them. Their shells felt so smooth, decorated beautifully in different patterns. They also had beautiful patterns on their flapper fins and on their heads. The one I picked up was pretty timid, but the one Avi picked up was rather opinionated! It flapped it's little flippers in a fit of range during the duration of our picture taking, until he was put back in the water. After exiting the pool, we washed off our hands and feet at the sanitization station, because turtles and other reptiles have been known to spread Salmonella and other bacterial diseases. Always sanitize after handling reptiles & amphibians!
After our time at the turtle park, we headed over to Dolphin Discovery. I was pretty excited to get some footage of us with the dolphins but the park would not allow us to take in our own camera, even though it was a water camera. It was actually a load of bs, so we had to pay an obscene amount of money for subpar pictures that were taken by their staff… but hey, it worked, so who are the suckers here? I refused to go home without some snapshots of my experience with these wondrous creatures. So back to the actual experience.
We suited up in our life vests and followed the photographer staff women toward the pool we were to enter after the "OK" from our dolphin trainer. We all entered the pool in a single file line, there was a russian family of 4 in front of Avi and I, then behind us there was another family of 4. We all entered the pool and stood on the platform as our dolphin trainer introduced himself as Luis. The dolphin that we got to interact with today was Galileo, and he had such a funny personality! Luis would give entertain us with some tricks, we would hold our hands out in front of us, and Galileo would start at the front of the line and swim past everyone so we got to run our hands across his cartilage like body & fins. Then he would roll over and come back the other way so we got to do the same to feel his belly. We did this a few times here and there.
In between tricks, Luis would enlighten us with more information about dolphins. Like how their fins act as a fingerprint, all dolphins have different series and patterns of ridges on their dorsal fin, which is the fin that stands up on their back. The sound that they make also comes out of their blowholes which they also breathe out of. Dolphins do have sharp little teeth mostly used to catch fish, but not to chew them. They swallow their food whole and can consume up to 30 pounds of food a day. Dolphins can swim up to 25 mph, which Luis proved when he had Galileo do some diving tricks. One minute the dolphin was in the air, and faster than you can blink, as soon as it hit the water again, it was right back across the pool at Luis's hand for a fishy treat! He did leaps and dives, jumping 20 feet into the air, splashing all of us below! We also did some individual tricks, each one of us got to step out slap our hand on the water and Galileo would swim up to our other hand in the air and touch his nose to it. Then we would put our arms out to his fins and he would lift himself halfway out of the water and use his strong tail to balance and dance with us. This was the cutest trick: we would hold our hands out in a cupped position and when Luis gave him the signal, he would swim over to us, left his bottled nose and place it into our hands. We would then pucker up for a dolphiny kiss and a photo opp. After my turn, Luis asked if Galileo enjoyed it, and he let out a series of high pitched squeals and squeaks with his head nodding "yes" motion. Everyone got a laugh out of that!
They really are such playful animals, and as much as I had fun interacting with them in this park that enabled us to, it also made me very sad to see such wondrous creatures in captivity. However, Luis insisted that these dolphins survive longer in these parks which act more like conservations. Apparently it is hard for dolphins to find a sufficient amount of food in the wild to allow them to live as long as they should, and also they are hunted by sharks or harmed by human conditions. Before our time was up with them, we got to do a few more belly rubs and ever throw a piece of fish into Galileo's mouth. After we finished in the dolphin pool, we did some souvenir shopping and then headed to our bus stop which would take us back to the main strip by the port.
While we were waiting, our new friend Courtney who we met on the crazy Cozumel tender, had started up a conversation with Avi regarding how we enjoyed our experience here. She then proceeded to tell us that her and her mother who was standing beside her, were going to check out a restaurant who served this island delicacy of Turtle Burgers. Avi not really thinking I would go for this asked me, "Would you wanna go eat turtle burgers with them?" I thought about it for maybe a few seconds and though "When in Rome…" I mean, WHY NOT!? When is the next time I'm going to have this adventure? NEVER! Yes, I may have other adventures, but not this same one, right here, right NOW. So Avi and I took them up on the offer, and joined them at the Paradise Restaurant for some turtle burgers, rice n' beans, and some locally brewed beer.
I also spotted some TURTLE SOUP on the menu, which I had asked my cousin Danielle about in our last issue's travel piece about her trip to the Galapagos. She had never had it, but I was determined to find out for myself what this had tasted like! Curiosity had definitely gotten the best of me on this trip, and I was gung-ho about every experience! So Avi and I sunk our teeth into the turtley goodness.
Many people ask what it tastes like, and let me just say, I would definitely eat it again. The burgers were a nice reddish crisp on the outside, and the inside texture was somewhat of a slightly undercooked meatloaf. It definitely did not taste like chop meat, but it didn't taste like raw meat either, it was somewhere oddly in between. Courtney and her mom also joked how we must have been just as twisted as them to be playing with cute little baby turtles in a wading pool one minute, and then scarfing them down on a burger bun the next. (Not the same turtles we held, cuz THAT would just be way too weird ) :-P
This was the last excursion day we had. We spend the last whole day at sea doing activities around the ship, and lying out on the top deck for some last minute sun. As Avi and I stood at the balcony overlooking the large wake being left behind by our enormous ship, we spotted two little fish jumping in and out of the waves. They jumped a couple times, and as we looked closer, we noticed they were dolphins! Beautiful magical, mystical, WILD dolphins. Not in captivity…. free to roam the seas that they belong in. It reminded me that the ocean really is such a mysterious and beautiful place. It can be a very scary place, it can swallow you whole in an instant… but it is also a place that should be marveled at for all of it's natural beauty. It was the perfect ending to such an amazing adventure I will forever cherish in my box of memories. We looked onto the horizon and we were on our way home…
The first thing you notice when waking up in the port in Roatan, is the huge abandoned ship which has rusted over and partially sunken into the bed of the ocean. It looks like something out of a movie set, like it had been placed there for tourists to get a kick out of. Upon exiting the ship at the port in Roatan, everything seemed like a big party. There were islanders banging on drums and dancing around to the tribal grooves, pulling in tourists to dance with them. They danced like they were conjuring up spirits, or ridding their bodies of evil forces. On this day, we enjoyed our excursion along with my friend Kristin, her mom Jackie, Jackie's friend Cheryl, and Kristin's boyfriend David. We found our tour bus shortly after watching the dancing fiasco.
We were greeted by our tour guide, Joy. She was very funny and knowledgable about the island. The first thing she mentioned was the abandoned ship that we saw earlier, and informed us that it was actually a Carnival Cruise Ship that never made it back home. After she scared the wits out of all the bus passengers, she relieved us with "JUST KIDDING GUYS!" and proceeded to tell us the real history behind the ship. It was actually a cargo ship that got pushed into the bay and sunk during Hurricane Mitch in the 90s. As we zipped through the narrow twisting and turning roads of the island, Joy also told us that there were no speed limits in Honduras, and that STOP signs are merely suggestions. That put us all at ease as well! These tour guides really like to keep you on your toes!
We also learned some pretty interesting information pertaining to the lifestyle here. Teachers actually make more than doctors, and the highest paying salary you can get in Honduras is about $200 a month flat rate, no overtime. She also pointed out the colorful houses throughout the island and informed us that instead of delivering the mail according to house number, they deliver it according to the color combinations. No two houses have the same roof and house color combination. I also noticed many little Coca-Cola and Pepsi stands on the island. We must have driven by at least 20 of them.
She also talked about some of the wildlife here including the Rabbit of Roatan, which she made clear was not like the cute little white fluffy tailed hippity hoppity creatures that we were used to back home in the states. She referred to the rabbits of the island here as "Rabbits on Steroids", and then said, "You'll See". GREAT!! We soon arrived at Gumbalimba Park which was named after the Gumbalimba Tree. We ventured to Gumbalimba to explore various tropical wildlife such as parrots and capuchin monkeys. Before we could see these beautiful animals, we had to experience a little adventure first!
There was a replica cave dedicated to Pirate Captain John Coxen which we walked through for a short tour. Being that this was a man made cave, I was not expecting it to be inhabited by low flying fruit bats. I had to scream and duck for cover at least twice, giving the less skiddish quite the laugh. We learned a bit about Captain John Coxen here, who was a pirate infamously known for raiding the Gulf of Honduras. He also had an eyepatch and a hook on his hand, which legend has it, a mosquito was flying around his face, and forgetting that he had a hook for a hand, swatted the bug out of the way, and in turn, gauging out his eye. I am not sure how entirely true this legend is, I can't seem to find much about this guy on the internet referring to his hooked hand, patched eye, or pegged leg.
After the cave replica, we proceeded across a suspension bridge which stretched out across a murky river filled with turtles. I think we had the most fun on here, and I had flashbacks to my favorite scene in Indiana Jone's "Temple of Doom". We took our time walking across, as it didn't take much for the bridge to start swinging. We finally made it across and didn't realize that Joy was already waiting for us on the other side. There was an alternate, much faster route called "The Chicken Path" for those who were too nervous to cross the suspension bridge. She led us to an area with beautiful Amazon parrots and McCaws resting freely amongst the trees. There was a bird trainer also holding a Green Amazon parrot, allowing people to take their pictures with them. Everyone in our group had lots of fun with this. I allowed the heavy bird to sit on my left shoulder as it squawked ever so loudly in my ear. I've owned birds before, little cockatiels, but this was horse…errr… bird of a different color.
After we had fun with the crazy birds, Joy regrouped us and kind of reminded us about the rules and regulations when dealing with the monkeys. We had bought a locker so I didn't have to bring in any of the bags, because apparently these little guys are quite the pick pocketers! We were also instructed to leave our water bottles on the benches off to the side while we played with the monkeys. On the way into the monkey reserve, we heard rustling in the bushes. All of the sudden there were these two crazy guinea pig looking animals who were running at at least 25 miles an hour after each other, not even acknowledging the humans in their path. These were the Steroid Bunnies as Joy liked to call them. They really minded their own, but crazy they were indeed!
The experience with the monkeys definitely was not long enough. I really wish I could have spent my whole time at this park, in this section. There were also about 30 other people in this section at one time, so your time with your monkey, IF they even came over to you, was pretty abrupt. The monkeys were allowed to roam here freely, jumping on whoever they deemed interesting at any given moment. There were cute little baby ones and larger adult ones all mixed together. I had some time with about two different monkeys for a few minutes each. They would sit on my shoulder, and climb on my head, resting their human like little fingers on my forehead. The personality they all have is hilarious, and it's crazy how intelligent they are. So intelligent in fact that one of them saw our water bottle over on the bench and must have mistaken it for a toilet bowl because it decided to spray feces all over it! GROSS INDEED! We definitely chucked that right way!
On the way back to the park's entrance area we stopped at an Insectarium and bug museum which was just a little shack containing thousands of dried species of bugs in glass display cases. There were literally thousands of moths, beetles, roaches, butterflies, filling up each wall with their scientific names next to each. After we were done here it was time to head back to the main area to wait for our bus and collect some souvenirs. I bought a cute pair of monkey earrings made from the wood of a coconut tree, a bracelet, and a couple pocket knives in resin cases made from mahogany trees, all from a nice merchant lady. We then were picked up by our shuttle van that was more than scary, twisting and turning once more through the hills of Roatan as it rushed us back to the port to meet our ship. Every day on this trip, was one adventure after the next!
Photo Credits - Avinash Patel
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