Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Break: Cayman Turtle Farm, Cayman Islands

When you arrive at Grand Cayman by cruise ship, you are shuttled ashore on a small boat called a tender, since there is no dock there large enough to accommodate the huge cruise ships. Riding the tender was no big deal for my little ones who are use to regular trips on ferry boats, but they were in awe of just how blue the water was. And, of course, the pirate ship we passed. What six and eight year-olds wouldn't be in awe of a "real live pirate ship?"

We had decided to spend the day at the Cayman Turtle Farm. I didn't know it until we got home, but the farm doesn't just raise turtles to release back into the wild; they also raise turtles for their meat and other parts. The Cayman Islands were originally dubbed Las Tortugas (The Turtles) by Columbus in the early 1500s due to the turtles found swimming around the islands. In fact, for many years ships would stop there to fish for fresh turtle meat to feed their crews. So much so that eventually the green sea turtles in that area had all but disappeared.

The Turtle Farm originally opened in 1968 to do just that - farm turtles. That continues today, but the farm is now also a research / education center and attracts over a half a million tourists each year.  The place is huge! Our time constraints only allowed us to see some of the attractions, and my husband and I decided that some day, we'd like to back to Grand Cayman. Perhaps rent a house on the beach for a week. I know it won't happen until I retire and braces and college are paid for, but a girl can dream...

Our first stop was the breeding pond. It was huge; full of turtles ready to mate and then crawl up onto the beach area to lay their eggs. Workers then collect the eggs and move them into a building where they control the turtle's development. Keeping the temperature below 85 degrees F (about 30 degrees C) creates mostly male turtles, while warmer temperatures produces predominantly female turtles.

The oldest turtle at the  farm is "Sparky." (She's the one in the bottom right of the photo above.) She is 65 years-old, has been at the farm since it opened, and is still going strong. We couldn't touch the big turtles,

or this guy. He posed so nicely for me on top of that pedestal, but as soon as my son made his move (to try to grab him,) the iguana bolted and hid in the shrubbery.

We could, however, get up close and personal with the younger turtles. They were so cute and stronger than you'd think. They've got a lot of power in those two front flippers.

Our guide told us the secret to keeping them calm is to rub them under their chin.When they would get excited and stare flapping those feet, a few little strokes was all it took to calm them down again. Just to be safe, we had to hold them over the tanks - in case one of them managed to wriggle away.

Even Grandma managed to catch one!

After we had our turtley fun, it was time to swim. At the farm they have a very large swimming / snorkeling area filled with many different species of fish, conchs, and sea turtles. Swim with sea turtles? We didn't have to ask the kids twice!

My son was much more confident this time and didn't hesitate to get into the water. Of course, little Miss K was off and exploring before I even managed to get my mask on...

We ate conch fritters, calamari, plantains, and jerk chicken for lunch before heading back to the ship. Along the way we were very glad that we had booked our shore excursion through the ship and not on our own. (When you book through the ship, they'll wait for you if there is a breakdown. Otherwise you may be left behind when the ship leaves port.)

As we rode along the highway, sitting in air conditioned comfort and reminiscing about our day, all of a sudden we heard an incredibly loud "bang," and then a repeated "thudding" and the back of the bus. (So loud that my ears rang for a long time afterward.) Just as we all turned in shock to see what happened, smoke started pouring out from under the seat on the back right side of the bus. The poor girl sitting there, who looked about 15, shot straight up and literally flew into her dad's lap a row or two ahead of her. 

Our driver assured us that he'd called for another bus to come pick us up and that we shouldn't have to wait long. I asked if I could take a few pictures of the wheel, which I did, but I would have loved a picture of the bus at the side of the road. Unfortunately, there was just too much traffic on the highway and it didn't seem safe, so I had to settle for the the photo of the delaminated tire.

Several of the ladies on the bus started complaining about how the wait was eating into their shopping time, but we didn't wait there for more than about 15 minutes. Another bus drove up, we got on, and were back at the port in no time. I thought the driver handled the situation perfectly. In fact, we really appreciated all the people we met on Grand Cayman.

Once we were back to port area we had some time before we had to board our tender back to the ship so the kids wanted to do a little shopping. My son learned how to haggle very quickly and managed to find a few good bargains. It was fun watching him decide exactly how he wanted to spend his vacation money. Sometimes waiting for him to decide was painful, but it's such an important lesson, don't you think?

Then we hopped on a tender, rode quietly back to the ship, and collapsed until dinner. If you've ever taken a cruise then you know all about the unending food. On a cruise ship, at least for us, dinner in the dining room was an event not to be missed. But that's a post for another day...


Emily @ Perfection Isn't Happy said...

I'm glad that you were okay on the bus! I would've been more concerned about my safety and less concerned about my shopping trip. It seems like your family handled the wait well :)!

Suzanne said...

It is smart to book thru the cruise line, unless you have been there before and know about the traveling time. I use to cruise all the time as a travel agent, but I never made it to the Caribbean. On my bucket list!

Brian Westphal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Westphal said...

What wonderful fun! The perfect destination for the Quilted Turtle!

My previous attempt at commenting didn't have my name attached.

Marcia said...

what a great experience!

Liz said...

Brian, That's exactly what I thought!

Do you know, if you put your email into your Blogger account, blog authors can email you a reply after you leave a comment? Have a great day! Liz