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…
PICK AN ADVENTURE!