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