Grand Cayman: Dancing in the Streets

“How do you feel about going to a street party at 4 a.m.?”

That was the text from our friend AJ, who is the queen of group trip planning. Every year, we meet her and her partner, Steve, along with fellow Coloradans Steve and Shane Holonitch for a dive trip somewhere exotic. Last year it was the Azores, and the year before that it was Honduras. We’ve also visited Bonaire, St. Croix, and Belize.

This year’s destination was Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands located in the Caribbean between Cuba and Jamaica.

As she does every year, AJ found the perfect house for our group — spacious, well appointed, and with its own private beach.

Shane getting an enthusiastic hug from AJ as we enjoy sunset cocktails on the beach
A private plane coming in for a Cayman landing at sunset

In addition to scuba diving, these annual get-togethers are about sharing delicious food, plentiful cocktails, and enough laughter to make your stomach muscles hurt the next day.

We thought AJ was joking when she first mentioned the 4 a.m. street party, but she was serious. Known as J’Ouvert, or “opening day,” the event kicks off the annual Batabano festival.

Batabano is the Cayman Islands’ national carnival celebrated every May with two weekends of color, music, parties, and parades. The name is a salute to Cayman’s turtling heritage; the word “batabano” refers to the tracks turtles leave in the sand.

When we bought our tickets, the organizers handed us each a bag with a t-shirt, sunglasses, packets of colored powder, a lidded drink cup … and a condom.

In retrospect, that taught us everything we needed to know about J’Ouvert.

The location of the party is kept secret until midnight, when ticket holders receive an email with the address. Everyone arrives in their brand-new t-shirts, many of which have been sliced into intricate patterns as a manner of personalization.

A mobile DJ with an elaborate (and elaborately loud) sound system comes to life at four o’clock on the dot and moves slowly down the street as partygoers dance in the headlights. The mobile bar serves unlimited rum punch, beer, and heavy-handed cocktails, and as the alcohol kicks in, so does the twerking.

(image via Cayman Carnival Batabano)
(image via Cayman Carnival Batabano)

Getting dirty is part of the J’Ouvert fun, and I don’t just mean the dancing. Those packets of colored powder are thrown in the air, landing on the crowd and sticking to shirts soaked by a water truck. Plastic bottles filled with watered-down paint are squirted by partiers giggling like school children, and mud is thrown and smeared with glee.

It’s at this point in the festivities when you appreciate the lid that came with your souvenir cocktail cup.

(image via Cayman Carnival Batabano)

The whole thing wraps up at sunrise with a Caribbean breakfast on the beach.

While we were well-prepared for water, paint, mud, and even twerking, we weren’t prepared for the mosquitoes that were enjoying the party as much as the people.

We sat gingerly on beach towels in our rental van and arrived back at the house just before sunrise, eager to shower and sleep. But first, a photo to prove that six middle-aged folks can still party, if only once a year.

Our group post-J’Ouvert, minus Steve Thompson, who had already headed to bed