Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Undiscovered Cayman

When people come to Cayman they think golden sands and Seven Mile Beach.  Well OK, that's a fair comment as both are pretty nice on SMB but really there is more to Cayman than just this.  Thankfully.

The Seven Mile Beach corridor with its condo on the beach developments and attractions is admittedly the big draw, but there is more out east where the swamps and mosquitos and the deadly diseases used to be... but that was years ago.  Things have moved on and with regular aerial spraying, the bugs have largely gone.  Well at least those with deadly diseases have.  So that leaves the largest chunk of the island available for use.

Grand Cayman. To the left is the Seven Mile Beach Corridor. To the right the large chunk of land is the formerly malarial east end -- now site of the Shetty Hospital.  At the top right is the magnificent Queens Highway.
Topographically Cayman is or are the 3 tips of a huge undersea mountain so there are massive trenches just offshore which make it a fabulous diving location.  But onshore realistically the largely undeveloped east end is what is called here 'iron shore' except that it's inland dividing large areas of mangrove swamp, small lakes and the odd fertile field where crops are grown and livestock raised.  To develop this area, you have to both want to and have to know what you're doing.

So it was really nice to see that something that had long been talked about was actually happening and actually happening really soon.  This is the new Health City or to be precise the Shetty Hospital complex out in the east end.

I'd been here before and seen the signs -- the ones that say "Site of the Future Health City" -- and rolled my eyes.  So much talk, so little action but this time on the advice of a government surveyor I'd played tennis with I drove off the beaten track, up the hill and over the top and there it was in almost its complete glory -- the new Shetty Hospital.

And very impressive it was.

I was stopped at the gate by 'Panama' the security guard who said I couldn't go further but was happy to chat and tell me the story.  The hospital is 170 beds and is phase 1 of the development (apparently phase 2 won't be built until government lengthens the runway and upgrades the airport) and is built of cork with poured concrete supporting it. As the building is on top of a small hill I suppose it's clear of storm surge like the island suffered during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Panama waxing lyrical

Panama waxed lyrical about the fact that the workers on the site were mainly ex-cons who couldn't otherwise find work and that the entire crew plus contractors and sub-contractors had been hired by the Imperato family who were going to build a 10-story hotel on top of the hill just outside the hospital for patients' families.  He showed me the dividing line of the property between hospital land (owned by the Thompson family) and the Imperato land.  Apparently on February 14th 2014 once the hospital opened for business the crews would be working full time on the new hotel project.  Certainly a lot of land had been cleared and graded ready for work proper to start.

This is an amazing positive for the island's economy.  Better known for its financial services background, what the island needs (as does Bermuda) are big infrastructure projects that employ hundreds of non-financial people and with this they have them.

Seeing projects like this (and of course the many Dart family projects that are ongoing in the SMB corridor) convinces me that Cayman has seen the toughest of its days post Ivan and the follow-up Great Recession which decimated the funds industry, a cornerstone of the Cayman economy.  Brighter things lay ahead.


I really like the north shore.

OK its a bit cheesy but anyone that calls the road the 'Queen's Highway' has me won over.  What I like about it is that it isn't anything like the SMB corridor.

The road is empty, the beaches lead onto iron shore for the most part, swimming is all reef and rock and there's pretty much nothing there on the other side of the street except well ... nothing.

The heritage people have done a fine job since I've been coming to Cayman by putting up information signs all over the place.  Great idea.  They add loads of local color to what could be thought of as boring swamp or endless iron shore and scrub.  The Mastic Trail sign for example is fascinating.

There's no fields like you understand fields.  Just swamp and scrub.  But between them are bits, small bits admittedly of fertile ground that can be cultivated.  And the farmers of old got there by cutting down trees and laying them laterally across the swamp/scrub to make a footpath they could then take into and out of the fields.

What the sign doesn't say of course is how hard this must have all been and how little they could actually produce from inefficient scraps of land.  But still an eye into the past and a fascinating one at that.

This said though walking along Seven Mile Beach doesn't make you a bad person!

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