Plenty of visitors flock to Seven Mile Beach for its spectacular sunsets, and if Shane Edwards has his way, they’ll soon be just as eager to trek out to the East End around sunrise.
Mr. Edwards, an East End native, wants to share the beauty and history of the district he loves with visitors to the island, and has recently started a bike tour company, ECO-Rides Cayman, to do just that.
“East End is different from other parts of Cayman because it is still considered country, and not yet as developed as other areas around the island,” Mr. Edwards said.
“I see the beauty of East End every day. When I ride my bike or drive home from work, as soon as I hit the Bodden Town point, I feel the fresh sea breeze and from there I roll the windows down coming up to High Rock until I get home.”
It’s a home, he says, he would not trade for anything, and he worries about its future.
“East End has changed in many ways,” Mr. Edwards said. “The biggest change is that most of the locals have left to live in other districts which for me has created sort of an emptiness.”
He is also concerned that development has taken away many of the beach areas that East End residents once enjoyed more freely, and that too many of the district’s trees are being cut down, with no plan for future replanting projects.
“My hope for the future of East End is that more locals get involved in the tourism services, and realize what a gem we have in East End,” Mr. Edwards said. “I also hope that the politicians of the day put more interest in preserving our environment.”
Mr. Edwards came up with the idea of leading bicycle tours in East End in early 2013, after speaking to visitors at a local resort about places to eat and visit in the district.
“I also saw many tourists walking along the road and a few riding, but wasn’t sure if they knew where they were going, or if they identified some of the major landmarks,” Mr. Edwards said. “I want to show them what I know about East End as a local, that was born and grew up here.”
Mr. Edwards is also keen to support other local businesses, and points out many restaurants that might not be listed in guidebooks.
ECO-Rides currently offers three different tours. The Cayman Sunrise tour is an 11-mile ride that begins at 8 a.m. and takes between two-and-a-half to three hours, hitting the main attractions along the coast of the East End down to the blowholes. The Cayman Sea Breeze tour goes a bit further, taking riders out to Lover’s Wall and Health City. It’s a good option for those that like to sleep in, since it begins at 2 p.m. It’s 14 miles and three to three-and-a-half-hours long.
The Inland Escape tour is the longest at 18.5 miles, and takes four to four-and-a-half-hours. It hits everything the first two tours do, but also takes riders deep into the heart of inland East End, to get a glimpse of the rich farming culture of the district. The tours begin at the Wyndham Reef Resort, around sunrise.
On a recent Inland Escape tour, the first stop was one that most visitors to the East End are likely to miss: Collier’s Pond. The “pond” designation belies the true size and attractiveness of the site. It’s a designated animal sanctuary, and ideal for bird watchers. There are several species of birds that can be spotted here, including herons, egrets, double-crested cormorants, black-throated blue warblers, Caribbean Elaenia, and West Indian woodpeckers among others.
After a brief stop at Collier’s Public Beach across the road, riders head to the Wreck of the Ten Sails memorial, to learn about one of the most famous shipwrecks in Cayman’s history. In 1794, 10 ships in a convoy headed to the United States and Britain wrecked on the reef that surrounds East End. Locals heroically rescued the passengers and crew members, managing to save all but eight lives. Legend says that the Cayman Islands enjoys its tax-free as a reward for the bravery displayed by residents during the rescue, though no documented evidence has ever proved the theory.
Further up the road, riders stop at East End Lighthouse Park. While the lighthouses themselves are rather small and unremarkable, the many historic markers at the site provide fascinating details of East End’s past. Some of the markers are fading now, but luckily, Mr. Edwards is able to fill in the blanks and then some.
The next stop is well off the beaten path. Mr. Edwards takes riders to the home of one of his relatives to explore a sizeable cave, where he used to play as a child. The stop is a good opportunity to learn what it’s like to have grown up in East End. The shade of the cave is an ideal resting spot, and after eating a few sour tamarinds pulled from the nearby tree, riders set off again.
A trek to East End would not be complete without a stop at the blowholes, which is lovely site even on calmer days, and where Mr. Edwards enjoys pointing out the various fossils embedded in the seashore. The final stop along the coast before heading inland is at Lover’s Wall, which makes for a nice photo opportunity.
Inland, riders trek up to Health City. Mr. Edwards is excited by what medical tourism might bring to his district. A few miles down another road leading inland, riders begin to see the lush groves of tree farms, and farmers at work, many wearing traditional thatch hats. Further on, deep into East End’s forest, Mr. Edwards points out Venter’s Cistern, an important freshwater site used by wildlife and cattle. Lucky riders may run into one of the district’s prominent figures, like cow herder and butcher Evelyn McLaughlin, who’s been recognized for his contributions to agriculture in the Cayman Islands.
The final stop on the tour is at Grapetree Cove, Mr. Edward’s own waterfront home, where riders can rest in one of his hammocks while enjoying a cool beverage and the fresh sea breeze.
It’s hard to imagine a better way to end a day touring the East End.
For more information, contact [email protected]