Following the Maya: Cartier, Chanel et Moi

Sailing from the Port of Miami on Oceania’s newest luxury ship, the Riviera, we are following in the footsteps of the Maya, looking to explore the remnants of this ancient pre-Columbian culture, its temples and villages. This particular sailing, Mayan Mystique, will take us as far south as Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Places with large indigenous Maya communities, many of whom still worship the gods of the ancient Maya and follow the Mayan calendars. If not the ideal trip for someone 'desperately seeking Paris,' it's of great interest nonetheless.

Departing the Port of Miami late evening, watching the glamorous cityscape receding into the distance under a canopy of stars forming in the eastern sky, offered a magical beginning for this Mayan escapade.   

After a sybaritic Day One at sea, we docked at George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands. Some of the more adventurous passengers sign up for a two-tank certified reef dive in the legendary underwater canyons teeming with corals, sponges and shipwrecks. The less adventurous sign up to snorkel and feed the gentle stingrays by hand. Having done that in Australia, I check out other possibilities and find mention of 'world-class shopping.' I go ashore.

Without a plan or a clue as to where the best shops are located, I mosey along the main street, stopping at both the National Museum and the United Church,  dating to 1846.


Mosey along, that is, until a banner on a side-street catches my eye: Cartier. How French is that? The interior of the shop is welcoming—honey-woods and glass cases filled with seductive pieces—as is the sales assistant. Wearing a long-sleeved white silk blouse, her sleek hair pulled back, she looks elegant and cool. On a blistering hot afternoon in which everyone looks to keep to the shady side of the road, elegant and cool is good.

We chitchat about watches, about how complicated the newer models are, how classic the older ones. Asking if she’s from the Cayman, I learn she grew up in Trinidad.

'Really? I would never have thought you were Trinidadian. I would have thought you had some Asian in your background.'

It turns out that her father was the Taiwanese ambassador to Trinidad and married a Trinidadian woman. She grew up there for a number of years, until she was packed off to a Catholic convent school in Taiwan. That resonated with me, having spent four years in a Catholic high school as single-sexed as a nunnery.

As these things go, we soon discovered that we both had flown for the airlines, during what are routinely called 'the glory days of aviation.' She for nine years with BOAC, British Overseas Airways Corp, which later became British Airways, and I for four with TWA, later taken over by American Airlines. The bonding was immediate, as if I had run into a sorority sister in the Caymans.

I could hardly bring myself to leave Cartier, until a bona fide customer arrived. Handing my new-found friend one of my Desperately Seeking Paris cards, she told me where to find the other high-end shops in town: Turn left at the fountain. I took one long lingering look around.

A left at the fountain brought me to the Rolex clock under the palms. Not interested in purchasing fine watches or loading up on long-stemmed crystal at Baccarat, I gravitated to Chanel where I met the charming Briseida who taught me an important lesson: After you have sniffed so many fragrances that they are bumping into one another in your head, the thing to do is to take a time out to sniff the beans.

At which Briseida brought over a bowl of them. Smell this, she said. After a few inhales, the coffee beans clear your air passages and reset your olfactory sense, so you can continue sniffing the collection. There were so many fragrances to choose from, and so many that I liked, but the one I kept returning to was Chanel’s 'Coco: Mademoiselle'. At Briseida’s suggestion, I purchased the eau de parfum in a twist-and-spray perfect for tucking into a handbag. Perfect for traveling, by air or by sea. Best to purchase the 3-pack, so you don't run out too quickly.

With time running short, I took a quick inventory before hopping the tender back to the ship.  Is there a Fabulous French company that doesn't have an outlet in the Cayman Islands?

In the days following, we explored Mayan temples and artifacts, but I'll save that or another day.  I'd be most grateful if you would take a second to share this post. Sharing is caring. Looking forward to seeing you next week when I'll have the coffee ready.