Review of Skip Harper's "Adventuring on Cayman Brac -
A Guide to Great Adventures on this Small Caribbean Gem "
by Nicky Watson, The Journal newspaper - Cayman Free
Those of you who think you know Cayman Brac should take a look at a new travel
book that puts this quiet little island into a whole new perspective and
expands on several new directions for tourism here. "Adventuring on Cayman Brac
- A guide to great adventures on this small Caribbean gem" is the first book
dedicated to vacationing on Cayman Brac, and Skip Harper is just the man to do it.
With the eye of a scientist and enthusiasm of a child looking for treasures on
a beach, Harper has hiked the trails, climbed the Bluff, done the running
routes and dived the waters. He's explored bolt-holes and caves, found hidden
footpaths and unearthed folklore and oral history with a genuine appreciation
of this island and its people.
Harper has an artist's eye and, even if you don't read a word, a flick through
the book will reward you with some excellent photographs, most taken by the
author and some from the National Archives. Check out page 112 for a wonderful
patterned shot of a cave ceiling.
The book is laid out very sensibly with an introduction to the Brac and an
historic overview, but for those of us who get dizzy half way up a stepladder,
the place to start, out of sheer curiosity, is the chapter on rock climbing.
The thing to absorb here is that climbers speak of the Bluff with the same
degree of enthusiasm that divers refer to the Cayman Wall. In fact, some have
indicated that a major attraction of the Brac is the possibility of
experiencing world class climbing and world class diving in the same day. He
has written several articles in Rock and Ice, one of the leading US climbing
magazines and states in his book "adventurers from far and wide are traveling
to Cayman Brac to enjoy the sport in this extraordinary tropical setting".
However the number of rock climbers who come to the Brac is currently unknown
since nobody keeps track. Many stay at the 'rock climber's house' (as it is
known locally) near the eastern end of the south road and, so far, this
branch of tourism has been developed entirely by Harper and his climbing
friends. They have mapped out 75 routes on the Bluff face, marked by a series
of titanium bolts for climber's safety.
In spite of a fascinating introduction to this chapter, which explains the
history of sport climbing and requires no previous knowledge, the climbing
itself is for the experienced only and details of the routes are given in
'climbspeak' and are largely unintelligible to the uninitiated.
The chapter on hiking alone is worth the cost of this book. This is the most
comprehensive guide to the various trails and is where the book most coincides
with the Sister Islands District Administration Nature Tourism Project. As
well as a brief look at the history and development of these hikes and notes
on hiking generally, Harper details 19 trails: where to find them, what to
look for and what to expect. Particularly useful is a grading system (easy,
moderate, rough) for each leg of the trail, so there will be no surprises if
a trail suddenly shifts from easy to hard. He also includes particular advice
for each trail. For example, on Rock Road he tells the reader "wear long
pants or you will become a human pin cushion". Bird watching is covered only
briefly, but Harper refers readers to other books that fully describe this
activity. Running is given its own chapter and Harper details nine routes
on various types of terrain.
Cave exploring on the Brac is generally confined to a basic five caves, each
easy to find and easy to get into. This is clearly inadequate for an
adventurous soul like Harper, who describes 13 in various degrees of
accessibility. He gives them the same grading system as the hikes, including
one, the 'Elevator Shaft', recommended for climbers only. Even Rebecca's Cave,
the most frequently visited on the island, is given the Harper treatment.
While the history of Rebecca's sad little grave inside this cave is well known
and oft recited, the author has gone to the trouble of finding her sister, Ms.
Dolly Brown, and poignantly retells the tragic events that led to the child's
death 70 years ago in Ms. Brown's own words.
Sister Islands District Commissioner Kenny Ryan donated most of the photographs
and several stories for the fishing section of the book. He tells the Journal
that, initially, fishing was the driving force in attracting tourism to these
islands - Little Cayman especially - and famous names such as the ball player
Ted Williams used to visit the island in the 1970's. He points out that,
except for a few fishing tournaments, this aspect of tourism is not being
advertised as aggressively as it could be. Serious conservation minded
anglers catch and release 90 percent of the time, he claims, and believes
fishing tourism could become another facet of attractions to these islands.
One major problem hampering development of this on Cayman Brac is the lack of
a secure docking facility, which means large boats cannot currently come into
safe harbour within the reef. He hopes that this will be addressed in the
future and a marine facility established to cater to that group of fishermen.
In the meantime, charter fishing is available, and though this is not one of
Harper's main interests, he has clearly enjoyed listening to fishing yarns
over the years, and several are retold in full in this section, as are a
number of old photos of local fishermen and their monstrous catches (they
really were "this big"). Both shore diving and boat diving are detailed in
full, as well as swimming, snorkeling and finding empty beaches.
The history, geology and politics are all given a brief but highly readable
coverage. Harper is clearly a visitor who enjoys a good chat with Brackers
and obviously holds the local population in high regard, so the section on
local culture is sensitive and enthusiastic. The final chapter details
popular tourist accommodation, but harper seems more at home at La Esperanza,
a no frills hotel and local hang-out on the north east, and prefers the
barbequed jerk chicken served outside by owner 'Bussy' Dilbert to the steaks
imported from the US at the hotels. This is Ernest Hemmingway versus Joe Tourist.
Quincentennial Tourism Ambassador for the Sister Islands, Moses Kirkconnell,
supports adventure tourism and thought Harper's book was very good. "Every
little bit helps" he admits. He believes the family package is the experience
that the Brac can sell, but to get to this market, they have to be able to
offer a range of activities. "The island is dying for land-based activities
to complement the diving industry." He says the short-term target of the
Sister Island Tourism Association is to achieve a third of the tourism market
from nature tourism.
Adventure tourism and nature tourism complement each other, says Ryan, and he
believes that this will assist in developing inter-island tourism. The DC
thinks the book itself will generate interest for those on Grand Cayman who
have not been here before and now know what we have here. "It is a book that
does justice to the natural beauty and variety of different sites and
locations the Brac has to offer" he says.
The book is distributed in Cayman through Hobbies and Books at a price of CI$24.99
or through amazon.com at a price of US$26.95