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Phyllis Gray on 13/5/2010
Marcus, enjoyed your adventures! Please keep looking for holes in your collection so you can travel to more places, adding more shells to your collections (and our, too). Look forward to your next adventure! Phyllis Gray

Grand Cayman by Marcus Coltro

One of our methods for selecting a collecting destination is to check our photo gallery for a country with few or no shell images.

We had only ten species from Cayman Islands so it seemed a good place to go. After checking flights and a place to stay for a few days, I was able to get a very good deal on a hotel including a car rental - my first experience driving a car on the left side of the road. Since they did not have any small rooms, I was forced to take a beachfront condo for the same price, with free Wi-Fi, two suites, living room, dining room, full kitchen and balconies! The only thing missing was a girlfriend.

After passing customs, I went to Avis to get my car - made sure to get insurance, just in case... and sprayed some holy water on the car and me (just kidding). After trying to find the seat belt behind the wrong shoulder, I concentrated and repeated one hundred times "must stay on the left, must stay on the left." Pedals and parking brake were in the normal position, automatic transmission (!) and mirrors too. It was not bad driving since I rode scooters a few times in other left driving places. But I kept turning on the wipers instead of the turn signals.

Since the condo had a full kitchen, I brought food from Miami to save money and time. I only needed to purchase water (and beer) which was available at a small grocery store next to the hotel.

The Wi-Fi connection worked fine and I called Jose on my notebook (Skype is great!). Although it was almost 5:00PM, I wanted to snorkel and check out the area. The water was very clear and warm and the breakers were not very far from the beach. The waves and current seemed a bit strong, but that is usually a good sign since shells prefer highly oxygenated waters. And that looked very oxygenated!

It was a very rich place full of life, quite different from other places I have been. I even found a Lion fish, introduced from the Pacific Ocean and released from Florida aquarium shops after hurricanes hit their tanks. I love taking underwater pictures, but resisted the temptation so as to concentrate on looking for shells. Upon entering the water, I saw a couple of live Strombus gigas (did not collect them), several beautiful Cyphoma gibbosum, Cypraea acicularis, Mitra barbadensis and nodulosa, Arene, Pisania, etc. The closest I got to the breakers, the worse the current and waves became. I persisted in swimming towards the drop-off even though the waves were heavily crashing on my head; there was some nice small rubble to turn for shells, so I stayed there until I got a bit dizzy. I found a very nice Conus mus. It was getting dark and I did not have a flashlight, so I returned to the hotel.

After a shower and a beer, I put all the shells I found on a tray, turned my notebook on and using the webcam via Skype called Jose to show him my discoveries. I went to bed early: it is always nice to fall asleep to the soothing sound of the sea.....

Got up early, ate a cookie for breakfast and went straight to the beach again. I found colored Chlamys ornata, more Conus mus and other shells. Cyphoma gibbosum are very variable there – ranging from bright orange to yellowish to nearly white. They must taste awful since they advertise themselves with bright colors on the gorgonians and no fish dare eat them. I wonder about that, but I will leave this research to someone willing to have more adventurous meals.

Later that day, I went to my first hunting expedition for land shells. Checking the satellite maps, there were many isolated roads branching from the main road that crosses the island. Isolated? Outdated pictures again! The main road is very populated nowadays but I did manage to find secondary roads to explore. I parked under trees but did not find a single dead specimen of Cerion. I crossed to the north shore and then to the west toward Rum Point (no rum for sale there, however). There were nice restaurants, gift shops, picnic tables, snorkeling gear and kayak rental places on a very cozy beach; a nice place for regular tourists.

I drove to the northeast side (here is a video - ok, poor filming and yes, I was paying attention to the traffic!).

I found a small road going toward the sea. It was an abandoned construction site where they had piled up mounds of sand and debris. And I found Cerion! All very dead, near fossil, but at least it gave me hope to look for live ones. Despite spending almost two hours, I did not find a single live specimen... maybe all extinct? I found some live juvenile Thiaridae on small freshwater ponds, but that was it.

I returned to the hotel and ate pasta and then took a nap so I could do a night snorkel later. I was hoping to find more shells then, but I did much better during the morning. I saw many lobsters and when they started looking delicious it was time to go back and sleep.

After waking up again to that fabulous view from the balcony I rushed to the water. Although the breakers were somewhat violent I decided to try crossing to the other side. The current was awful and uninterrupted waves made things harder.

I worked my way to shallow water below the waves without getting killed but when I was finally in deeper water, the waves and current got stronger. I dived to escape a large wave and turned a rock to find a very nice Conus regius. When I surfaced, the waves crushed my head and pushed me against the corals. I could not see in front of me due to the bubbles so I stretched my arms to prevent cracking my head against a coral. After fighting for a few minutes that felt like hours, I managed to return to the protected area. Hum... I guess 300 dollars for that Conus regius is a fair price, isn't it? I did not give up but stayed a few meters away from the breakers. I was probably already upset after almost drowning, and every time I turned a rock a gazillion fishes came to bite anything that moved, and irritated me further. It was almost like underwater mosquitoes! I swam away very fast until I saw no more fish around. Then I went down to turn another rock and they reappeared like magic! They were following me like remoras on a shark!

That afternoon, I drove to Queen Elizabeth Botanical Garden (http://www.botanic-park.ky/). I am not really into plants but I saw it on the Internet and it looked interesting. Indeed, the park is very well maintained and clean. I walked the Woodland Trail (almost one mile long) and took many nice pictures. The path was made with coral rubble and I found a fossil Conus! No sign of land snails, but of course I did not use a machete to cut my way through the trees... Too bad but I did not see a single blue iguana.

The next day was my last before leaving the island, so I wanted to spend most of the time in the water. I am sure I would have found many more shells if I had had a scuba tank - it takes at least two or three days to build up to a good bottom time snorkeling - the fact that I stopped smoking helped a little (but not my waistline!). Before leaving the water, I took several nice pictures, filmed squids and saw a very large barracuda resting in the shade.

After a nice warm shower, I went out for a long walk on the beach to look for Cerion. I previously noticed that not many people walked next to the tide line and I did not understand why. I was wearing flip-flop sandals and hit my thumb on a rock. Did not bleed much, the pain was bearable, and no one around understood the bad words I yelled. I saw some bushes and trees with grass which looked promising. Then I understood why people were not walking on the beach: there is a seedpod with spikes which hurts a lot when it penetrates the skin, leaving it numb later! After having to remove a few from my feet (which then perforated my fingers) I gave up and returned to the hotel to pack and prepare for leaving.

Altogether, it was a nice trip and I was able to get many nice shells which will make a good presentation on our photo gallery for the Cayman Islands!


English check by John Wolff


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