Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Travelin' Homeschooler Takes a Break

I have an acquaintance who scuba dives. To hear him describe the activity and characters that live beneath the sea is true poetry.

After our trip to the Everglades, we went to Captiva and then on to Key West, a grueling schedule as I am sure you can imagine. Once that leg of our journey was completed, I traveled to see my friend in Grand Cayman. Everyone should travel to the Cayman Islands!

You don’t go to Grand Cayman to see the architecture, the landscape or the tourist attractions. In fact, hurricane Ivan destroyed much of this beautiful Caribbean Island. Grand Cayman, just like much of the British West Indies in the Caribbean, has remarkably recovered from this natural disaster and the original beauty of the island is still apparant and is as vibrant as ever. There is new building going on all over the place, and many of the places that were damaged have been restored. It was difficult for me to imagine what Ivan did. There is a very moving book called “Paradise Interrupted by artist and photographer Courtney Platt that illustrates the devastating effects this hurricane had on Grand Cayman in September, 2004. A good book to choose for visual learning about Mother Nature's power.

You go to Grand Cayman to explore a world that most people forget exists on our planet. That world is the one that only Neptune himself and those crazy people who don scuba gear and jump out of boats into the dark and mysterious sea below know. I am not a diver, but the folks I spent 4 days with were as fanatical about diving as I am about travel. Yes, the Travelin' Homeschooler enjoyed 2 days reading on the beach while these crazy folks explored places called “Babylon”, “Snapper Hole” and “The Maze”. According to my host who has been diving for many years, the best place to go diving in the Caymans is in the East End out of a place called “Ocean Frontiers“ Situated in a pretty cool resort area called "Compass Point Dive Resort" . Compass Point is a place for divers, comfortable, beautiful, right on the beach, in view of the reef. Away from the busy Seven Mile Beach and the tourists there, Compass Point and the folks at Ocean Frontiers will take care of the travelers in our homeschooling community. This place is truly a place to learn; where, if you are brave - you can learn about reef life by diving, by snorkeling or by simply swimming off the beach at Compass Point. My friend took me snorkeling each day I was there and it was truly a memory I will have forever. The first day the reef revealed amazing residents. [You can check out photos of some of the colorful reef residents at the photo gallery at the Ocean Frontiers website.] The second day the reef residents were out entertaining the divers and I got to take in the beauty of the colors of the coral. There were so many colors that you wouldn't ever imagine existed under the water. It was the most beautiful natural wonder I have ever seen - so far!

Grand Cayman is also a place where there is some pretty good food if you are so inclined to indulge in local cuisine. Portofinos, a favorite of my host, offered pretty incredible Italian food and a decent wine list. The Lighthouse Restaurant at Breakers in Grand Cayman also offered a pretty amazing menu. They even had grappa on the menu! One place I wanted to visit and hope to go the next time is Vivine's Kitchen, a place for local cuisine, is located only 500 yards East of Ocean Frontiers at Compass Point.

For more dive information contact [Ocean Frontiers]. For information about staying on the beach near the reef contact[Compass Point Dive Resort].

Beef Jerky, Hells Bay and the River of Grass

"Everglades has no single feature, no prominent point of interest now or ever. It is a mosaic of many things seen, smelled, heard and endured."

Daniel Beard - first superintendent of Everglades National Park

You start out in a midwest snowstorm and end up in Florida packing nothing but beef jerky, cut-offs, sunscreen, red and yellow kayaks. Travel is great when you do it this way. Homeschooling on the road. Beef jerky at it’s finest, "Catcher in the Rye" for reading and the thoughts of a new adventure.

A drive on the single road through Everglades National Park does not reveal the beauty and magic you can find there. We spent 2 days kayaking in this amazing place and left feeling like we explored only a very small bit of this river of grass.

The Everglades offer some pretty good kayaking spots like “Hells Bay” , “Noble Hammock”, “Nine Mile Loop”, “Mud Lake Loop”, “Bear Lake Canal”, “West Lake”. All come with the caution: “Tides and winds can significantly affect your trip. Do Not overestimate your abilities”. They ought to add “Don’t worry about the alligators - they don’t bite.”

The Native Americans named this place “The River of Grass”. We chose three trails, Hells Bay was one of tightly woven mangroves, West Lake was rough and wavey and a lot of “Need for Speed” fun, but the Nine Mile Loop is where you understand why the original inhabitants named this place the “River of Grass”. The description for this trail reads: “A scenic trail through a shallow sawgrass marsh with scattered islands of mangroves. Watch for alligators, wading birds, and an occasional eagle. Trail marked with numbered white poles. Motors prohibited.” It’s 5.2 miles and takes roughtly 5 1/2 hours to paddle - leisurely. There are 116 trail markers to be exact and it is one of the neatest paddles we have done yet.

Florida Everglades Information