Little Cayman is a sliver of sand and rock in the Caribbean. The slightest of the so-called Sister Islands, she rises no more than 40 feet above sea level and at first the majority looks like uninhabitable scrubland. The trees that are not palms are low, spreading and dense, tangled and largely indistinguishable from one another. But Lesser Cayman iguanas and red-footed boobys are commonplace, and the beaches, like all Caribbean beaches, are partly the refuse of the parrotfish who consume coral and later eject it as fine white sand: each is also the remnant of a life cycle.
If Little Cayman is the least populous of the Sister Islands as well as smallest – having a permanent residency of around 170 – this gives her a particular, wild charisma. Seasons are warm and breezy, and there are several resorts for vacationers who come to dive and fish. Some of those vacationers come year after year. Some eventually put up their own houses and stay on for months at a time. The people, whether imports or not, are universally kind; those who actually work in hospitality do so, it seems, because the way of life, not the money, is desirable and worth sharing.
One comes in on a twin-prop plane from Grand Cayman, 60 miles southwest, and lands on a pale asphalt strip in a grassy field. Each plane fits no more than, say, eight passengers and their luggage. Flights come and go several times daily, stopping occasionally at Cayman Brac, the middling Sister five miles east, before swinging back around and touching down on Little Cayman. I first took the looping flight from Grand to Brac to Little with my mother two years ago. Now it is 2015 and we are back.
A single road goes from tip-to-tip of the island. Traveling eastward from the airfield, one passes a little bar, a little grocery store, a little hardware shop, a little museum, the Booby Pond Nature Reserve that reeks on windless days, and other miscellaneous buildings, which thin out beyond Southern Cross Club, the oldest resort on the island. Nine miles on is the island’s eastern terminus, Point of Sand, a fine place for snorkeling and tanning.
As I’m writing this, it is 2 p.m. at Southern Cross and I’m neither snorkeling nor tanning. It’s too hot. My mother and I are here primarily to dive, and, having gone out in the morning, we can now rest in the shade until dinner at 7. The salt water and sea air have tangled my curly hair into impossible knots. The cover of the paperback I am reading is warping in the humidity. There are sharp-winged black frigate birds overhead. The wind, starting slowly and building with the day’s progress, is now steady and from the east. I sip rum punch.
It’s cliché but true. This is a paradise, or the Paradise – either way here with us on Earth.