The Cayman Easter camping tradition

I went for my first Cayman camping trip back in the early ‘70s. From what I can recall, it was quite different compared to today’s Easter beach outings. Acting as a camp counselor, I headed to what was then known as “Skinny-Dip” beach with a group of mischievous teens from Rum Point’s summer camp. The beach was in the East End Queens Highway area, which at that time was nothing more than a cow path.  

Then-world champion water skier Bruce Parker, and his wife Doris owned Rum Point, where they had a small 10-room hotel, bar and restaurant. In order to keep the place open during the slow summer months, Bruce started a summer camp for boys between the ages of 10 and 15. Here the kids learned to scuba dive, fish, catch land crabs and build thatched huts along the beach. The highlight of the trip was the “survival camping excursion” to Skinny-Dip beach. The “Skinny-Dip” alias was tagged to the beach because it was a favorite hiding spot for honeymooners visiting the far side of the island.  

Bruce took us by boat, which was the only way to get there at the time. He cast nine of us off on the deserted beach. We took inventory for our three-day camping adventure; knife, fishing line, hooks, two pots, water, flashlight, machete and matches, and that was it. The moment his boat left our sight, we were officially and willingly stranded.  

This was not your typical modern-day Easter camping trip, it was a survival mission. For three days we fished, snorkeled, climbed coconut trees and listened to our empty bellies growl as we battled pesky mosquitoes, but we had a blast. 

I stopped camping a long time ago, but let’s take an inventory at a typical modern-day Cayman camp site. Tent, three coolers, generator, flat-screen TV, iPad, frozen fish, battery operated power saw, battery operated fan, gas operated BBQ grill, badminton set, Jet Ski, water, gas, blow-up air mattress, hammock, mosquito spray, mosquito coils, mosquito net, beer, and the number for Domino’s Pizza. There’s more, but you get my point.  

So why not just stay at home for the weekend rather than haul all your household belongings to East End? Is it to get away from people? That can’t be the case; every camp site I’ve ever seen in Cayman has an accumulation of at least 10 tents.  

Sometimes I wonder how this tradition started and why. Let’s consider there was no CUC or Mosquito Research and Control Unit on the island until 1966, yet at that time on the other side of the world, man had already been to space. Not until ‘73 did we have a radio station and much later TV. Compared to most of the planet, Cayman was way behind. Maybe that’s where the tradition started, considering that just 50 years ago daily life in Cayman was archaic, much like camping.  

But traditions need more than half a century to become a tradition, don’t they? Last year around this time I trotted down to the beach from my home to ask an old friend about the camping tradition. My friend is a born and bred Caymanian, so he should know. I never got to the question because he was so busy checking items off a list. “Now let’s see, tent, TV, coolers, Jet Ski, cereal….” He had forgot something, his cellphone. With that important item unaccounted for, he drove back to George Town.  

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Colin Eccles tends to his camp on the beach with many more provisions than campers used in the old days. – PHOTO: JEWEL LEVY

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