Viva Varun: In Grand Cayman!

Answer to “Where am I?”: Grand Cayman

Congratulations to everyone who answered correctly on the blog, Facebook and Twitter: Roger, Chris, Michael S., Machu, Juergen, Mark, Rick, Michael B., Jasmine and Fran. 

Grand Cayman is the largest of three islands (the others being Little Cayman and Cayman Brac) that is located in the western Caribbean. It lies south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica.

The island is less than 200 square kilometres in area but is the fifth largest banking centre in the world. In fact, there are branches of 40 of the 50 biggest banks in the world on Grand Cayman. There are also numerous law and accountancy firms.

The country was first spotted by the Italian-born, Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus in 1503. He named them “Las Tortugas” — after the many sea turtles he saw in the surrounding sea. In 1586, the British explorer Sir Francis Drake came upon these virtually uninhabited islands and renamed them “Cayman” which in the local language means alligator.

The islands became permanently British in the 17th century and in the 1790’s gained tax-exempt status, as a gift, after her people rescued the sitting British monarch’s son from a shipwreck.

Well, I am back on the road armed — once again with my trusty D-Lux 5, but also with a new addition — the new V-Lux 3.

Before I tell you about my latest filming trip, I’d like to share just a few words about the cameras I am using this year. My D-Lux 5 has taken around 40,000 photographs in the last twelve months. Most of the white paint has flaked off the dials and the body is peppered with small dents and scratches. Wherever I go, this Leica goes with me. It does have its limitations — vast wides and at night for instance — but as my workhorse, it’s second to none. The V-Lux 3 is quite different to last year’s V-Lux 2. If the latter was the Aston Martin DB8, the former is the DB9 … It feels sleeker, more powerful and the (zoom) ride is much, much smoother. At night, the V-Lux 3 excels, with or without flash, and I am getting better quality photographs with much less grain.

This year, I have a full schedule as we are filming for “Inside Luxury Travel” and our new series “Culinary Travels”. It looks like 2012 will be packed full of adventures on nearly every continent. I am also planning to run the New York Marathon in November and a private winter trip to the Artic to capture the Aurora Borealis and polar bears on camera.

My visit to the Caribbean was primarily to film food segments. I knew very little about Grand Cayman except as a major banking financial centre and I figured that these rich bankers, lawyers and accountants all need to be fed in the way that they are accustomed. The island is small and the soil inhospitable. Apart from a new hydroponics venture and the odd mango, papaya and sugar cane farm, Grand Cayman imports all its produce from abroad – mainly the United States.

I stayed at the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman — located on Seven Mile Beach (which is actually only 5.5 miles!). It boasts superb restaurants and its signature, Blue, is of Michelin standard. Dotted around the island, you will find many superb restaurants offering the likes of burgers and fries right up to steak with foie gras. I was quite impressed with the seafood. Tuna, wahoo, lobster, lionfish and conch are found in abundance in the sea. These are caught daily (either by fishermen or you) and are turned into colourful, tasty and healthy meals.

There is also a rum distillery on the island that produces a couple of fabulous brands that are much sought-after by aficionados from around the world. There’s a local pepper jelly producer who uses the hottest peppers in the world (Scotch Bonnet) to create a mouth-watering and mouth-burning jam.

The prices at the duty free shops at the airport are the cheapest in the world too, including authentic Cuban cigars. Every moment on Grand Cayman was a sunshine-filled pleasure!

-Varun Sharma

Varun Sharma is the host of Inside Luxury Travel – a television show that focuses on high-end travel. The show airs in over 169 countries, in 21 languages and is beamed into 1 billion homes worldwide. He has now stayed in nearly 700 luxury hotels & resorts … and has in the past couple of  years has flown in a fighter jet, gone diving – without a cage – in Tiger Shark infested-waters, had dinner with a dingo and has cooked with over 75 Michelin-starred chefs! His new venture Culinary Travels starts airing later this year. He likes nothing better than playing a round of golf with his pooch Gemima by his side, cigar in mouth and flask of single malt Scottish whisky to hand!