Easter is coming up, which means only one thing in Cayman – it’s time to go camping.
Any veteran Cayman camper knows that one must either dust off and clean up all the old camping gear, or head to the store to buy all new stuff.
Since I’m a relative newcomer to the Island and I’ve never been camping in my entire life, I had to go shopping. I also needed some direction and advice. And as the late, great John Candy said in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, “I’m still a million bucks shy of being a millionaire.” But that’s another issue.
The two stores I visited were AL Thompson’s and Uncle Bill’s, both in George Town, both equally helpful, both abundantly stocked with camping gear for this Easter.
I went to Uncle Bill’s first, where I walked the store with a notepad and a curious look on my face. I scribbled down everything I could, taking notes on items and products that could help me. After a half-hour of pretending to know what I was looking for, I headed down the street.
When I stepped into AL Thompson’s, I was greeted by Regal Jackson, a gracious store clerk ready and willing to answer all my camping questions.
Regal first led me down an aisle filled with stacked crates of Bayou Classic products. “This is a pot for roasting and frying turkeys,” he said. “It’s a fryer that you can do turkeys in, you can do your potatoes, your corn, your vegetables in.”
That 36-quart pot had a big brother, a 60-quart stainless pot. “This one is for boiling corn or frying chicken or steaming lobsters,” he told me.
Regal showed me the dual stove the pots fit in.
For a smaller family of four to six, there was a Banjo Cooker, a device that fits one pot on top and plenty of food inside. There was also a barbecue. “A lot of people buy barbecue grills for that purpose, for camping.”
Camping is of course all about getting back to nature, the original eco-friendly pastime. Home Gas Ltd. sells propane that is safe, low carbon and environmentally friendly. Katie O’ Neill recommends their Bubba’s Ovens one of the most innovative gas grills to come on the market in years.
She says, “ You can cook your entire dinner on the grill without ever having to worry that any of your food will burn and it remains moist every time. The grills also allow you to roast, steam, smoke and grill roast beef, jerk chicken, you can even bake with them!”
So I got the cooking sorted out; what else will I need?
We looked at several flashlights and lanterns, sleeping bags and seam sealant. “And of course we have the tents,” Regal said. They also have a whole hurricane survivor kit, which can also come in handy on a beach camping trip.
The two items that impressed me the most were the shower and the toilet. “The water is hooked up on top and it dribbles down. This was very popular last year,” he said. “There’s a portable toilet. Everybody gets his own bag. And then we also have a tent that this thing goes in.” A restroom for camping!
They had air mattresses and blow up beds with hand pumps in case your lungs get tired. They even sell a hand cranked lantern that requires no batteries. “One minute gives you 15 minutes, or something like that.”
All of this, Regal said, was so I could focus on spending time with my family. That’s the point of the entire weekend.
One of the great traditions that Caymanians share is fishing. It’s pretty obvious why fishing is so important. But in many cases, Caymanian youth have shied away from the culture of fishing. Easter camping keeps this culture very much alive.
Chad Chapman from Sports Supply sells
items for those campers wanting to partake in water sports. “We’ve got a good range of wake boards, water skis and life jackets.” Have to be safe. They also sell plenty of items geared at getting kids excited about fishing, including all-in-one fishing poles brandishing the images of Superman and Spider-Man.
“For the upcoming weekend, the focus is on the kids and them having fun,” he said. Sports Supply even has tackle boxes for kids so they can sort their gear and feel like a professional.
Regal said he doesn’t use a fishing pole. “You got your fishing lines, you got your hooks, all your different kinds of hooks, your lead balls. Basically this is all fishing stuff if you’re fishing from the shore,” he said.
No rod? I’ve never been fishing without a rod, I told him. Doesn’t it hurt? “If you have a pretty big fish, it might burn it down into your finger. But it’s fun. I prefer it rather than the rod. You become the rod. You got to know when to give the fish some slack, know when to hold on.”
I started chanting the Kenny Rogers song in my head. “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
The whole point, he explained to me, is to take your time and do things the simple way. It’s about getting out there with the family, enjoying the time together, sharing traditions and it’s about outdoor cooking – eating and drinking.
“You’re still doing everything outdoors. Then you go out on the bay, as we call it, out on the bay on the iron shore, you throw your line, you catch your fish, you bring it back, you cook it right there, nice and fresh. You don’t get to do that all year round. So the holidays are good for that. Easter holidays,” he said.
“We always say you just walk in the grass and kicking, find a conch or two, and do up a conch stew. You can’t do that all year round. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. And I started to get hungry. “I think the majority of the people don’t even take a radio. These days we have the cell phone, but you know, you kind of get away from that too.”
That sounded like almost too much freedom. No cell phone? How could I live? No tunes? I don’t know. But it was then that I decided to give in. This is his expertise. If Regal said it’s fun, I believe him. It’s fun.
I asked his advice on where to go. “East End, North Side, those are the best places. You want to get out of town. Any time after you pass Breaker’s. From there on up, that’s where you’re going to find everyone,” he said. “You’ve got people picking their spots right now. They go there, they clean it up, they start to set up their stuff. And then somebody is always there.” And everyone is friendly. “It doesn’t cause a problem because everyone has their spot. So they know exactly where they’re going to be.”
He told me I should walk down the beach and visit other friendly campsites. “There’s always something going on at each campsite. And it’s a welcome thing. When you walk in, there’s a domino thing or there’s a beer or they just finished frying up a fish,” he said.
But there is an entry fee to each camp. “Just bring some beer,” he said. He finally said something that I was 100 per cent, completely familiar with.
I left the store with my new goods, ready to camp. This weekend, I’ll be out on the beach, claiming my land, like I a pioneer in the Wild West… or something. On Easter, I hope to see you there.