Grand Caymanians will always remember 2004 as the year they took on a hurricane and lost. Ivan the Terrible, as the storm has come to be known, subjected their island to 28 hours of winds reaching more than 200mph. As you drive across Grand Cayman you will not find a single home or business that escaped the storm unscathed. Some places were blown away, and many more lost their roofs or were otherwise rendered uninhabitable.
I arrived with a list of recommended accommodations, eateries, watering holes and nightclubs only to find that more than a few had ceased to exist. As I got to know some of the islanders and listened to the stories they were eager to tell about the night of the tempest, I came to realize that Ivan was a defining event in this nation's history, one that immediately entered the realm of local legend, to be passed down through the generations.
On Sunday morning, I drove to the East End to survey the damage and search for a hotel that was still open. Along the way I filled up my rented Diahatsu with the best-dressed, sweetest-smelling hitchhikers I've ever encountered. Quite by accident I had become the church bus. Places of worship were among the first buildings to be rebuilt.
The people I encountered were imminently approachable but slow to smile. Once they cracked one they were slow to stop. They tended to speak of the hurricane not in terms of what it took from them, but rather what it taught them about life and the grace of God. This is particularly true in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami. More than one Caymanian I spoke with - and these were people who had lost everything - had come to the conclusion that property loss on its own didn't really amount to human tragedy. To underscore this point, during my visit a souvenir shop in George Town printed up a batch of T-shirts reading IVAN SHOO! These were sold out by the next afternoon.
If you're considering a trip to the Cayman Islands, don't be dissuaded by Ivan's messy legacy. Most of the hotels and many of the restaurants around George Town and Seven Mile Beach have reopened and are eager to welcome visitors. And let's face it: the real reason you want to come is for the world famous diving and that beautiful beach. Happily, both attractions remain as glorious as ever.
Gentle readers, this is the last entry of the blog. To those who have written with words of encouragement and offers of tactical support I am ever so grateful. It is time for me to return to boring old Paris to sit in front of a computer for a couple months. Thanks again for coming along for the ride! ~Michael