A family of 58 from the United States descended on Grand Cayman this week, partly to celebrate a newly married couple and partly to acknowledge a long-standing love affair with the Cayman Islands.
Members of the Rojas family have been coming to Cayman for more than 50 years, ever since Rodrigo Rojas, now 80, a Costa Rican national, discovered Cayman on a trip from his home country to the United States.
After he married Barbara Kleppinger, now 79, in 1959, they came to the sunny Cayman Islands for their honeymoon. The couple stayed at the old Sea View Hotel on South Church Street and have been making friends on island ever since.
Now, 56 years later, the Rojases’ granddaughter, Carly, newly married to Taylor Cunningham, headed to Cayman after the wedding, but decided to have a “familymoon” rather than a honeymoon.
Four generations of the family are spending this week in Cayman, along with 10 other guests.
The family has grown so fond of the islands that one grandchild has even been named “Cayman.”
“There is nothing that smells the way Cayman does. I don’t know how to explain it – clean, healthy, romantic and fresh smelling, all rolled in one – it just smells so real – the water and the beef patties. Oh, it’s so nice,” said Carly.
Dressed in 1980s outfits, the four generations gathered on Seven Mile Beach for a family photograph Tuesday to record yet another island memory.
All four Rojas children were there – Albert, Robert, Kavonne and Mary Ellen – as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The family members came from throughout the U.S., flying in from Pennsylvania, Florida and California.
“It’s just a very special place for our family,” said Mary Ellen.
Over the years, plenty of significant events have occurred on Cayman for the Rojas family.
Albert met his wife while on vacation in Cayman. He honeymooned here and named his first born “Cayman.” It was a race between the siblings to see who would be the first to name their child after their favorite place in the world, said Mary Ellen.
Robert honeymooned here and says he was awarded “honorary Caymanian Fish and Game Warden.”
Mary Ellen’s son Andrew Williams proposed, got married and honeymooned in Cayman and worked at Durty Reid’s for six months.
“It’s the family happy place … the place where I learned to swim and scuba dive and was dying to take my son for him to experience the same thing,” said Carly.
As Carly’s son Brody grew older, she showed him pictures of Cayman. “Ten days before the trip, he kept counting the days and each day he would say ‘one more day mommy, just one more day,’” she said.
Seeing the water for the first time, Brody said, “Oh, Mum, this is so beautiful.”
“We jumped in the water and didn’t come out until 8 p.m.,” Carly said, who reckons 50 percent of her own childhood memories are from Cayman.
“I love this place, I just can’t get enough of it, it’s the perfect definition of paradise,” said her husband Taylor. “When I wake in the morning and see the crystal blue water, it’s almost overwhelming – it’s like [I’m] in a dream state when I wake up.”
Andrew Williams, now 30, said he has been coming to the islands since he was a baby. After leaving school, he called up friend Reid Dennis of Durty Reid’s and got a job at his restaurant at Pedro Castle.
“Lots of people travel thousands of miles for holidays to their mum’s and dad’s place – and smelling Thanksgiving dinner – that’s me when I come to the island, I smell just being home, and it’s such a comforting feeling,” he said.
Mary Ellen recalls having to run indoors at night in 1968 because the mosquitoes were so bad. There were no televisions and no phones, but they picked mangoes from trees on the roadside and when they wanted the fresh catch of the day, Mary Ellen’s boyfriend would go in the sea right off Seven Mile Beach and come back with a dinner of lobster, conch and fresh fish.
She said the island has remained beautiful over the years, despite being far more developed than when she first came here. “There are many tourists and traffic, but the Caymanian people are still beautiful, which I think is amazing,” she said.
She said she loves coming here with her kids and enjoying the great outdoors, not watching television, or playing on iPads or iPhones.
Beef patties are still a treat for the family. Since they have arrived, 50 beef patties have been delivered daily to their condos on Seven Mile Beach.