Tea time in the Caribbean

Tea time in the Caribbean

I have a huge map on the wall behind my bed. So big that it shows tiny groups of islands you wouldn't normally see, even if your map is as big as your dining room table.

What fascinates me every time I see these groups of obscure faraway places - The Pitcairn Islands, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha - is the name in brackets next to them. These, you see, all say (UK).

That means they are British Overseas Territories with the Union Jack on their flag, English as their language and Her Maj as their head of state.

What I wonder, looking at my giant map of the world, is how British these places are. Obviously, Britishness is more than ever a difficult thing to quantify. I would argue chicken tikka masala is as British as a game of cricket on a village green these days. 

But I think what the majority of people living in England's green and pleasant land would cite as something eternally associated with our nation is, is a cup of tea.

I look at these places around the globe with (UK) etched next to their names and wonder how easy it is to get a good cuppa all those miles away.

 

These days hotels all over the world have latched onto Brits' particular needs when it comes to finding a decent tea bag when far from home. No longer do we have to put up with the shoddy excuses for a brew that we did when packaging in Spain in the early Nineties. PG Tips, Twinings and Tetley are travelling as far as we are.

So it's not whether it's possible to make a decent cup of tea in Adamstown - the capital of the Pitcairn Islands on Henderson Island in the South Pacific - that I wonder about. It's whether at a friend's house or in a cafe, it is presented in a cup and saucer and arrives with a slice of cake. And do the Queen's subjects in Georgetown, the largest settlement of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, automatically put the kettle on and open the biscuit barrel between 3pm and 4pm.

I had a chance to explore these questions in the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands. This beautiful group of islands nestled below Cuba are better known to many of us than Ascension and Henderson Island because their status as a tax haven occasionally places them in the news.

Post boxes in Grand Cayman do have the crown and ER on them like ours but they are blue, not red. And you can spend Pounds but most places prefer American Dollars. In fact, the island feels very American. Like the Florida Keys.

Which is not a criticism because that means no traffic jams, no litter, no senseless graffiti, no gangs of undesirables. Instead there is air conditioning, friendly service, a sense of community and a feeling of safety at all times of the day.

Which combined with its geography must be why it's Americans who holiday here more than anyone else, including those of us who share a queen with the Caymanians. 

The Brits you do meet, that is to say those native to these shores who have moved to the Caribbean, work in the restaurants, shops and on boats.

Visit and you'll encounter them when you hire your flippers and snorkel. And you will want to do this because the snorkelling off Grand Cayman is incredible. I saw turtles, a shark, squid and all kinds of beautiful tropical fish and coral.

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And you'll probably encounter similar accents on the catamaran you take to Stingray City, a sand bar out in the ocean where hundreds of stingrays gather each day knowing they're going to get a free meal. They swim around your ankles curiously and will even give you a hug. Something I don't think I'll ever forget. Neither that or the incredible sunset we watched from the yacht, cocktail in hand, on the way back to dry land.

 

For the few weeks we were on the island, the beach beneath our balcony did not have a single wave break on its shore. Grand Cayman has the stillest water I have ever encountered. It was like a warm bath stretching out to the horizon.

Which made it perfect to swim through on horseback, and paddleboard on. 

If you haven't realised it yet, what I'm getting at here is that there is a little bit of Britain a few thousand miles west of where most of us live and it is a slice of paradise.

Oh and tea. Bags yes, bone china and ginger cake no. People tend to go for frapuccinos over there but we won't hold that against them. They have got everything else right.