I tried to get to Grand Cayman last week to see firsthand the damage from Hurricane Ivan. I wore hiking boots and packed bug spray, a flashlight and six bottles of water. I lugged two boxes of used clothing to donate to children in need.

But I did not make it much farther than the American Airlines ticket counter at Newark Airport, although I had what I assumed was a valid ticket. Unbeknownst to me, the Cay- man Islands government had issued temporary travel restrictions the night before my flight. The ruling was posted on the airlines computer screens.

The restrictions were straightforward. Caymanian passport holders, Caymanian residents and relief workers carrying work permits were the only people permitted to enter Grand Cayman by air or sea. However, the ticket agent didnt catch these restrictions initially.

I got my boarding pass for the first segment to Miami, where I was to change planes and connect for the one American flight that day to Grand Cayman.

I headed for security control and the gate. Thats when the mornings routine came to a screeching halt.

My name was paged over the airports public address system. I was instructed to return immediately to the main ticket counter, where I was surrounded by several supervisors and agents grouped around a computer screen, reading the restrictions.

The supervisor said I couldnt go to Grand Cayman because I carried a U.S. passport but no work permit. I was neither a Caymanian citizen nor a resident. I was invalid.

If I wanted to, I could have gone to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman, sister islands where the resorts suffered only minimal damage and where many had already dried out and reopened.

To travel there, I needed prebooked accommodations and permission-granted letters from the resorts. I only would have been allowed to change planes in Grand Cayman to a small Cayman Airways prop plane. I could not linger on the island.

I kept my cool. I showed my itinerary from the Cayman Islands Tourist Board and waved a copy of Travel Weekly and fanned out my business cards.

I called Pilar Bush, the Cayman Islands acting director of tourism, who spoke to the supervisor and somehow obtained permission for me to travel at least as far as Miami.

Maybe Id duke it out with American in Miami when I got there or maybe the restrictions would be lifted during my time in the air. I didnt know and I didnt care. Id get halfway there and figure out how to do the rest.

Thats when the house of cards collapsed. My flight was 30 minutes from takeoff, so I grabbed my boarding pass off the counter and headed out.

I just canceled your ticket, an agent said. We needed your seat, and we were told you couldnt go to Miami, so I booked someone else.

I remained polite.

Book me on the next American flight that will get me to Miami in time for my noon connection to Grand Cayman, I said.

But no such flight existed at American or any other airline. There were lots of planes flying to Miami, but none in time for my schedule.

I regrouped and decided to start all over again the next day. A baggage guy brought up my two boxes from the bowels of the terminal. They had been scanned, opened, checked and retaped -- but not too neatly.

I returned home, surprising my family. Im going tomorrow, I said.

Calls ensued back and forth between my home and the tourist office in New York.

Yes, they could reissue my ticket. Yes, they could fax me an official letter -- sort of a temporary work permit for a journalist -- that was guaranteed to pass muster with American ticket agents.

But there was no room at the inn. In fact, there were no rooms at any inn, hotel, villa, resort, condo or cottage on Grand Cayman.

The rooms that were habitable had been assigned to hotel staff and island residents whose own homes were badly damaged and to Caribbean Utility Commission (CUC) personnel working to restore electrical power to the island.

My original arrival date would have coincided with the weekly CUC shift change, which would have freed up a room or displaced one worker for one night.

My new arrival date messed up that schedule. Although I was not averse to sleeping in a temporary shelter, on a floor or on the beach, the tourist office was against that. Im not fragile. I have handled uncomfortable accommodations. I protested but to no avail.

Im not giving up. I want to see firsthand the wrath of Ivan and the resilience of Caymanians.

I want to talk to hotel managers about reopenings, to dive operators about the marine life teeming on newly-shifted reefs and to taxi drivers about the void produced by the absence of tourists.

And I will.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].


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