DISCOVERING A LOST PARADISE

Girl, Boat, Beach, and SunsetApproaching from the air, the center of Little Cayman Island appears to embrace the soft greens of an Australian chrysoprase stone. This tiny patch of land is encircled by a band of white sand with touches of turquoise in the shallow flats that fades into the deep blue of the open ocean beyond. After spending a few days on this gem of an island, the healing qualities of the chrysoprase stone seems apropos. It is said that these stones can soothe heartache, promote emotional balance, and grant inner strength and peace, which fits perfectly with the aura of Little Cayman.

As the twin-turboprop DeHaviland Otter owned by Cayman Air touches down on a rough, grass strip that sports a soccer goal about halfway down its length, one has their first indication of going back to a simpler time. A tiny, two room terminal with a fire truck on one end, a sandy parking lot in front, and cars parked only yards from the airplane is another indication that time has stood still.

Being only ten miles long and one mile wide with a population of around a hundred people, Little Cayman is the smallest and least developed of the three Cayman Islands, but it is a nature lover’s dream. More than a dozen secluded beaches along miles of undeveloped coastline, lagoons, mangrove forests, salt ponds, and tropical forests dotted with patches of wild orchids are treasures for the senses.

Birds are also an important ingredient of the island’s natural mix, and nearly two-hundred species of transient and home-grown birds are available for the viewing. Since Little Cayman and nearby Cayman Brac are a long way across water from anywhere, many birds stop off on their seasonal migration to the West Indies, Central and South America, and other warmer climates. Over seventy species of non-breeding wetland migrants have been observed from October through April. Cayman-born birds include the pied-billed grebe, the endangered West Indian whistling-duck, tricolored and green heron, yellow-crowned night-heron, willet, and black-necked stilt.

VIEW FROM THE SOUTHERN CROSS CLUBThe most famous bird on Little Cayman, however, is the red-footed booby, which is an albatross-looking sea bird. They live in a freshwater lagoon that is designated “Booby Pond,” and is the largest colony of these birds in the world. In addition, a huge number of magnificent frigatebirds also nest in the same area, and the two species are interesting to watch as they often fight high overhead when they come and go from foraging in the open sea.

Though the bird and nature watching is superb, most people visit Little Cayman Island for the romantic solitude of being on a deserted island, the phenomenal fishing opportunities, or the world-class diving. To enjoy any or all of these endeavors to the maximum, the famous Southern Cross Club is THE best place to stay. It was founded in 1959 when Little Cayman boasted just twelve people, and despite a population boom to more than a hundred, few places in the world possess such charm, comfort, hospitality, and service. The Southern Cross Club has ten air-conditioned, beach-front bungalows and is located on the windward side of the island, so a fresh tropical breeze and the sound of waves breaking on the barrier reef are allowed to drift in through any open window.

PETE HILLENBRAND WITH A TURTLE ON THE WALLPete Hillenbrand, who is originally from Southern Indiana, bought the club in 1995, and it is his energetic, fun, and spontaneous nature that gives the Southern Cross Club its unique personality. With the addition of Cate and Chris Ferriera as managers, and an international staff of experienced chefs, anglers, divers and service-minded employees, any visit to the Southern Cross Club becomes an unforgettable experience!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring most of the year, the fertile flats around Little Cayman Island offer one of the best chances in the world to catch a one-day, “Grand Slam” consisting of a tarpon, bonefish, and permit. The prime reason is the great number of permit that feed on these flats, because the permit is always the hardest part of any “Grand Slam.” In addition, tarpon that were trapped in a freshwater lagoon known as “Tarpon Pond” have reproduced, and now the entire body of water is teeming with smaller tarpon. For those who are beginning fly fishermen and have never seen the aerial antics of a “Silver King” on the end of a flyrod, this is the perfect opportunity!

Little Cayman offers plenty of other inshore and offshore fishing experiences for any age and all skill levels, and the Southern Cross Club provides excellent, professional guides. However, regardless of how great the fishing, the diving experience around Little Cayman is among the world’s best!

Although Bloody Bay is the main attraction for most divers visiting Little Cayman Island, the sites in Jackson’s Bight are equally as exciting with many tunnel systems and crevices to explore. My Southern Cross diving instructors, Steve and Chris, however, chose the “Mixing Bowl” as my underwater classroom. The magnificent coral formations in this area join the dive sites of Jackson Bight with those of Bloody Bay. The Mixing Bowl has some of the largest schools of fish and the most beautiful reef structures seen anywhere in the underwater world. The huge crevice in the center of Mixing Bowl is the mark separating Bloody Bay from Jackson’s Bight, and one look over “The Wall” that drops straight down 10,000 feet into a deep blue nothingness is absolutely breathtaking!

The only problem about fishing, diving, or relaxing at the Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman Island is that you will be starting with the best, especially with the diving, so anywhere else you go in the world will never measure up. In fact, the Southern Cross Club was voted the second best dive resort worldwide and the best Caribbean dive resort in recent years. However, reservations are necessary and are available by calling toll-free 1-800-899-2582, or by visiting their web site at: www.Southerncrossclub.com.

Few places still exist on this planet where you may leave your keys in the car, never lock your home, walk on a beach all day without encountering another soul, and you must remember that iguanas have the right of way. Little Cayman Island is just such a magical place, and I, like so many who have ventured there in the past, found something very special that made me reluctant to leave. It truly must have been given the soothing qualities of the chrysoprase stone, because now when the stress of life tries to take over, I close my eyes, picture the soft greens and blues of the island and the sea, and drift off for awhile into memories of my time in a lost paradise just south of Cuba.

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