If you think learning about Cayman’s history and points of interest might be just a little on the dull side, you may want to hop on the island’s latest tourist attraction.
A trip on the Trolley Roger isn’t the usual dry and dusty recitation of dates, names and facts – at least when Glenn Pieper is at the helm.
The transplanted Austin, Texas native delivers all the necessary info peppered with offbeat humour that not only has guests laughing but learning about the island, including the devastation left by Ivan.
‘It’s just been fabulous,’ enthused Pat Magee, a cruise ship visitor who took the hour-long tour last week. ‘It was his personality more than anything else. It just brought everything to life.’
Dressed as a pirate, Pieper’s over-the-top narration is as caustic as his character. He snarls at curious bystanders on the street (‘Just move along – you didn’t buy the tour, you can’t listen to what I have to say!’) threatens his passengers to have a good time and pauses to add his own surly comments on the local culture and attractions.
‘Look over here – it’s another stinking bank,’ he sneers, pointing out the boarded-up Scotia Bank during an account of the country’s financial community. ‘It’s closed now but will re-open soon. For now, it’s going to be our national plywood museum.’
As the trolley swings by the Citrus Building, he tells passengers of how it sheltered hundreds from the hurricane, the building able to withstand 300 mph winds. It has another claim to fame, however, according to Pieper. ‘It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records as the ugliest building in the world.’
While recounting the founding of the Cayman Islands and the country’s unique history, he quips, ‘Remember, there are no stupid questions – just stupid people.’
It’s all in good fun, of course, and that’s the point. The Trolley Roger promises ‘a swashbuckling good time’ and it delivers.
The tour winds through George Town, down Walkers Road to Smith’s Cove where passengers have an opportunity to check out the scenery and dip their toes in the sea. En route, Pieper points out the old Caymanian-style architecture, which survived Ivan remarkably well in comparison to modern day construction, drawing appreciative ‘ooohs and awws’ from his guests.
Pieper gives a lighthearted look at the island interlacing facts with fiction but there’s a serious side to his message as well. During the final leg of the tour, he talks about the relief effort and the impact of Ivan.
‘People are genuinely interested,’ he said. ‘Most of them don’t know what happened here.’
Run by The Tour Company, the locally-owned venture is the island’s newest tourist attraction. Operations manager Bryon Kelly said the company aims to carve its own niche in the market by developing sightseeing ventures unique to the island.
‘We’re not here to compete but to do things that no one else is doing,’ he said. ‘We don’t want to step on anybody else’s toes.’
He said the Trolley Roger is the first of several tours the company is planning to introduce to the island.
The attraction is geared for Cruise ship passengers but will open to the general public soon. For now, residents can take a ride on the Trolley Roger for free – providing there’s space available.
The tour, unfortunately, came on stream shortly before Ivan. Two of its jeeps were lost in the storm. While the hurricane threw a curve the company’s plans, the trolleys did come in handy after the storm, hauling people and supplies to assist with the clean-up efforts along West Bay road.
The company resumed tours in early November, with two of its four trolleys now back on the road. A third is expected to be up and running within a month.
Pieper was among the staff helping out after the storm, switching from tour developer to cleanup worker in matter of weeks – he arrived on island Aug. 30. Before that, he spent four years in Cozumel, Mexico developing tours.
Pieper, who has also worked as a systems engineer and professional musician, developed the tour here, training staff and writing the main script detailing the country’s points of interest, later revamping it to include information about Ivan.
He said each tour guide has their own style and the script leaves plenty of room to adlib. He admits his presentation is the most outlandish of all but it’s not his regular job description. He only dons his pirate’s garb to fill in as a tour guide when the company is short-staffed.
‘I can make a fool of myself for a living when necessary,’ he laughed.