Horizons Magazine - the in-flight magazine for Cayman Airways - 2003
by Lois Blumenthal for Destinations Magazine
WALK THE MASTIC! IT'S FANTASTIC!
Beyond the sun and the sand, lies another, entirely different part of the Cayman Islands - the shady recesses of the Mastic Trail. Covered with dense, diverse plant life including tall trees, flowering vines, wild orchids and endemic island species, the trail provides a unique opportunity to see another aspect of this beautiful Caribbean island. From the Black Mangrove Wetland to the sunny meadows of North Side, the Mastic Trail offers a complete change of scenery for the adventurous traveler. Alive with birdsong, the squawk of parrots and the rustling of lizards, geckos, crabs and other wildlife, the trail stands in sharp contrast with to world of bright waters and cocktails beside the swimming pool.
The Mastic Trail passes through a lovely mosaic of different terrains. There are a variety of ecosystems and habitats including Black Mangrove Wetlands, stands of Royal Palms, which are often home to families of raucous Cayman Parrots, abandoned agricultural land, jagged rocky fissures, and ancient dry forests. It takes its name from the Mastic trees that grow there in two varieties. The Black Mastic tree was thought to be extinct in the Cayman Islands for over a century, but in 1991 was rediscovered in this area. Yellow Mastic trees were heavily logged but still thrive here. One highlight of the hike is the huge Yellow Mastic at the highest point on Grand Cayman - a towering 60 feet above sea level! This impressive tree is home to many types of wildlife. Parrots nest in its hollow cavities, geckos hide under its loose bark, land crabs scuttle under its roots, and hermit crabs patrol its limbs searching for food.
To enter this tree-covered path is to step back in time. From the Mahogany logs laid in the wetland for footing 100 years ago, to the old coastline ridge of 125,000 years ago, to the two-million year-old forest that is one of the last of its kind in the Caribbean, the Mastic Trail is steeped in history. The trail was once the main overland route between North Side and Bodden Town and was used to transport thatch rope, produce and staples across the island. Often donkeys or oxen were used as pack animals. Sturdy shoes are recommended now, but the old-timers walked the trail barefoot to save their valuable footwear! As better coastal roads were built, the trail gradually fell into disuse and became overgrown.
In 1994, aided by a grant from the RARE Center for Tropical Conservation, the Governor's Fund for Nature, and Rotary Central Club, this traditional pathway through the forest was reopened by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. The National Trust is a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose mission is to preserve natural environments and places of historic significance for present and future generations of the Cayman Islands. The trail is still not yet completely protected and some areas are still in private ownership and susceptible to development. To make a donation or to find out how you can help to protect this historic and beautiful trail contact the National Trust.
The National Trust office can direct you to guided tours of the Mastic Trail and is producing a pocket Trail Guide for self-guided tours. The Trail Guide or a guided tour is recommended, as there are seasonal changes on the trail and poisonous plants to avoid. The Trail Guide also provides information about the traditional uses of many of the plants and background information about the variety of ecosystems through which you will pass.
The Cayman Islands have no poisonous snakes or other dangerous animals. Even the iridescent blue and orange wasps that can be seen buzzing above their holes in the red earth are harmless. However, there are three plant species that grow along the trail that contain skin irritants and should be avoided. One of these plants, the Manchineel tree, produces a "little green apple" that is eaten by Blue Iguanas, but should never be tasted or eaten by humans!
The trail is rocky and uneven and is about 2 miles long. With stops for rest, observation, and photography it takes about three hours to walk the entire length. It is not a loop-trail. Directions to each end of the trail and suggestions for arranging the logistics of your hike are in the Trail Guide. Bring mosquito repellent and a bottle of water and take a walk into another world - the world of the magical Mastic.
For information about guided tours, to make a donation or to purchase a Trail Guide for a self-guided tour, contact the National Trust visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky