Flying over a large body of Caribbean water in a rickety Twin Otter puddle jumper while arm’s length from an open cockpit exposing both Cayman Airways pilots, is not for the weak-hearted.
Then again, it doesn’t take that much bravado in the early hours of the morning when the sleep is still in your eyes.
I flew to Little Cayman with my wife, Tiffy, and our small child, Jack, on Saturday, 26 February, and returned home the next day on Sunday.
My assignment was to capture the events of the annual Little Cayman Mardi Gras Party and Parade through beautifully composed photographs and exquisite prose.
As soon as we landed, we rented a Kia Sportage from McLaughlin’s and took the two-minute drive from the one-room airport to Pirate’s Point Resort, where Gay Morse and Gladys Howard greeted us with open arms and wide smiles.
Gladys coloured a poster with Jack while Gay strolled in and out of the reception area with food, drink and enthusiasm. I asked Gladys why the poster read, “Go Green.”
“Is it for the Boston Celtics?” I joked, and she scoffed.
“That’s the theme this year, ya idiot,” she replied.
I looked at her response as somewhat of an early victory. I had heard that Gladys was unorthodox and had a peculiar sense of humour, which I learned within five minutes of being at her beach resort.
Tiffy and I munched quickly on a delicious, homemade apple turnover as I mentally prepared to work for the day.
I spent the next three hours with the good people of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, killing two birds with one stone, as it were.
I returned to the resort in time for a glass of water, a kiss on the cheek for Tiffy and Jack, and cleaned the beach dust off my Jordans.
With my trusty Nikon around my neck, I rolled down the street to Head O’Bay, where a small crowd was already gathering to start the festivities.
I picked up a hitchhiking Bob Morse, one of the Pirate’s Point workers, and dropped him off at the beginning of the parade. I performed a perfect u-turn and parked the car a good 200 yards ahead so I could beat the pack.
The first float I noticed on the walk back, was a giant, grey castle made out of cardboard that sat on a trailer being pulled by a 1990s Ford F150.
King Robin Fite and Queen Dianne Sherer, both wearing sunglasses in an act of defiance towards all things actually medieval, smiled for an amateur photographer snapping dozens of photos.
I took a few. I knew I’d get more later.
Other floats started to arrive – the marine institute float, a recycling float with a toilet as the centrepiece, a float with a girl peddling a bicycle while wearing a faux solar panel hat, the Pirate’s Point float, and a industrial pick-up truck filled with woman in aluminum foil bikinis – your guess is as good as mine.
The aluminium bikini/half-naked/party float blared music from PA system speakers on the flatbed that barely carried over the noise of an on-board generator that powered the whole operation.
I took everyone’s photo twice and three times for proper coverage and as four o’clock became five, the police-escorted floated started to roll.
I hurried to the car and made my way to the Hungry Iguana parking lot, and prepared for the best shots, climbing up on top of a stone wall for a bird’s eye view.
A local woman stood on top of her pick-up (another Ford) and screamed at a man to move his parked car.
“No, no, no! That’s not going to work! Move it!”
The driver did out of fear alone, while the parade shuffled up to the parking lot, and every single resident on island jerked their bodies around, attempting to dance.
Gladys stepped out of her float with a tray of cooked lionfish in her hands. I scooped up the first one and scarfed it down. A light and flaky fish, lionfish have been destroying local fish population, so all the better reason to serve them up in ceviches or other dishes.
More and more photos, less and less energy – I had been on my feet for the majority of the last 10 hours at that point.
I took over 600 photos of the parade and party, of which only 20 or so would be usable or suitable. “Quantity, not quality,” I would tell people that asked.
The king and queen handed out several awards for best float, etc, which ended the parade portion of the Little Cayman Mardi Gras.
The party would pick back up later at the Beach Resort, where they were serving a buffet style dinner that was set up in the resort’s tennis courts.
I packed my plate and Tiffy’s while Jack ran circles around the courts, smiling until a woman pulled him out of the way and he cried.
We ate like princes and princesses of the royal family while Jack played in the sand. The sun was now gone and night blanketed the outside area. Jack lost one of his favourite matchbox cars.
We took the first shuttle back to Pirate’s Point and spent the rest of the night sipping on red wine in the room.
We left the next day on a flight that stopped in Cayman Brac before heading home to Grand Cayman.
As we crossed the long-term parking lot of Owen Roberts International Airport with two overstuffed bags, Tiffy commented that she felt we had been away for two weeks.
“I guess that’s Little Cayman time,” I said, without much enthusiasm left for anything besides a warm shower and my spot on the couch – we needed a break from our break, a recovery from our recovery.