If you drive pass the East End Blow Holes from Monday to Friday and see a man looking very relaxed, lying in a colorful hammock, do not be mistaken. He’s not homeless; in fact, he’s never felt more at home.
Alan Ebanks has been the self-appointed ambassador, welcoming committee and guide to the geyser-like tourist attraction for the past 10 years, and obviously he loves it.
A hammock in the shade of trees along the road is his office, which he says is always cool.
“Naturally, I have to travel to George Town occasionally, but I come down with a malady called ‘Redbay-itis’ once passing Red Bay. The symptoms are an instant headache and a feeling of deep homesickness two hours later.”
He said George Nowak, aka Barefoot Man, has been known to suffer from the same ailment for decades. The cure? Leave George Town and head to East End.
Jumping to his feet to welcome a carload of visitors, Mr. Ebanks says Caymanians would be fascinated to know the variety of visitors who come to our shores.
One day, he said, a couple named Mary and Joseph from the town of Bethlehem in Palestine came to the blow holes, and he came to understand that those were common names over there. A young American marine who had lost a portion of his hand to an improvised explosive device, known as an IED, in Fallujah, Iraq, also passed by.
Then there was a couple from Bangladesh, a regal Kenyan lady dressed in full traditional colorful dress, looking very queen-like, and two couples both called Gary and Joan.
“I find out people’s names, where they live and if they are first-time or repeat visitors,” said Mr. Ebanks. “It’s amazing to see how many have been coming here for decades.”
Explaining the workings of the blow holes, Mr. Ebanks said when Hurricane Ivan blew through in September 2004, the holes took quite a pounding. In fact, only three are currently active, which he said represents less than half of the pre-Ivan total.
However, East End residents cleared the main blowhole, which can produce a jet of water up to 30 feet high.
Nonetheless, Mr. Ebanks points out that the blow holes experience involves more than just a photograph.
“I’m at the blow holes from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and it’s all voluntary,” said Mr. Ebanks. His pay, he said, is introducing visitors to this part of the island, which he calls “far from the maddening crowd of Seven Mile Beach.”
“I don’t wear shoes because the rocks or asphalt don’t bother my feet, and smiling is part of my gift to visitors,” he claims.
On the trek over the sharp sea rocks, Mr. Ebanks pays no attention to his bare feet as he points out the surrounding foliage and more interesting fossils in the area to visitors.
“My favorite is the stadium, a carved out piece of rock in the ironshore that resembles a stadium,” he said. Visitors can also see and touch sea life, such as bleeding teeth, periwinkles, zebras, whelks and limpets. Catching a glimpse of the “big blow” is a matter of timing and the state of the winds and seas.
Visitors refer to Mr. Ebanks as Obama because of his slight build, Barack Obama-like hairline and flared ears. If you close your eyes and listen while he talks, for a moment you might think the White House has moved south.
Mr. Ebanks does have another job. He has worked with East End MLA Arden McLean since 2001. He is also a regular after-school teacher at East End Primary School.
Since arriving on island from Cayman Brac 36 years ago, he still thinks the East End district has a unique warmth and informality to it.
“We as Caymanians need to always appreciate what we have here, because people have the option of going elsewhere,” said Mr. Ebanks.