The Mastic Trail
In the Caymans, ghosts are called "duppies." There is a shrub named after them.
A walk along the trail on my own certainly would have been enjoyable, but I would have completed the hike without any real knowledge or understanding of what I'd experienced.
For instance, I'd never heard of the "duppy bush" until my guide showed one to me. The shrub and its small green leaves didn't seem very noteworthy, but I knew that "duppy" was the Caymanian term for "ghost." So what was a duppy bush? A place where ghosts hung out together after dark?
"No," my guidelaughed. "It's named that because it glows in the dark when there's a full moon."
If the duppy bush wasn't unusual enough, the guide told me about a section of the Mastic Trail hike where all the trees are rooted in a fine red soil called "red mold." This mold, he explained, was not a red clay but a complex chemical mixture dominated by iron and aluminum oxides.
Scientists determined that the soil had been created by a fine dust blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara Desert of Africa; just another of many informative tidbits I learned because I had a guide to point it out.
The Mastic Trail hike starts from a small grass parking lot located at the southern trailhead. We set out early, shortly after 8 a.m., which is the normal time for the morning walks. An illustrated sign at the trailhead noted the major landmarks we would pass.
Initially, the trail passed over open, flat land still being grazed by cattle. After a few minutes, we entered a dense swamp of black mangroves where the water was at least knee-deep in places.
The old Mastic Bridge, the first landmark noted on the trail head map, provided us a high, dry footpath through the swamp. Like the original bridge built over a century ago, this version uses mahogany logs anchored in a fixed pathway by large rocks.
Coral rubble brought from the beach was placed on top of the slippery logs for better footing. Today, the beginning of the bridge is recreated with some of the original mahogany logs.
The black mangroves in the Mastic swamp reminded me of South Florida where the same unmistakable finger-like pneumatophores (which are of solid wood) protrude above the water and, like straws, transport air down to the roots.
The leaves on several of the mangroves looked like they'd been doused by a salt shaker: Black mangroves eliminate the excess salt they absorb from the water through their leaves, which is how they're able to survive in such an inhospitable environment.