CAYMAN BRAC, Cayman IslandsBlackbeard was a notorious pirate. Back in the early 1700s he sailed the Caribbean, preying on coastal settlements, plundering merchant ships. He’d roar into battle, his black beard smouldering from the lit strands of hemp he wove into it. Wreathed in smoke, he looked like the devil. He was the pirate’s pirate.
Folklore holds that pirates buried their treasure. Blackbeard is thought to be one who really did. And a place he may have dug is what locals on Cayman Brac, a thin island 18 km long, called the Treasure Pit.
These days, loot in the Cayman Islands is stored in bank vaults on Grand Cayman, one of the world’s biggest offshore banking centres. A half-hour’s plane flight away, on nearly deserted Cayman Brac, you can make a short trudge through the jungle to a hidden spot at the foot of a cliff to see for yourself where Blackbeard may have buried his treasure.
Cayman Brac nature tourism guide Keino Daley would just as soon take you to see parrots and red-footed boobies, but if your heart is set on pirates he’ll obligingly lead you to the Treasure Pit.
To get there, drive to the east end of Southside Road East. Walk a few paces east on the beach, turn left and go up a rough trail through the sea grape. Clamber over jagged limestone for a couple of minutes until you reach a rock outcrop. Look carefully until you see, about four metres up, a hole the size of an old vinyl LP. In its recess someone, many years ago, carved a skull.
Walk another three minutes up the path. You’ll come to a watering placea natural basin that’s always filled with rainwater. To your left will be an overhang of limestone that would nicely block your camp and fire from being seen by passing ships. A perfect pirate’s lair.
And the treasure pit? At the base of the overhang is a large, flat stone slab. It’s been moved: originally it was over the depression in the dirt next to it. There are also, alas, signs of digging.
As Daley tells the story, you’re probably only about 40 years’ too late. It was then, says Daley, that a local man noticed beach sand had been poured over the dirt at the base of the overhang. Thinking that whoever did it must have had a reason, he dug down. “But,” says Daley, “he found the slab, so he stopped. Then he went and told the governor.”
Bad move. “The governor came, turned over the slab, found the treasure, took it and left.”
The part about the governor abruptly leaving the Cayman Islands is apparently true. The rest is conjecture, but there’s certainly no pirate’s gold there today.
ACCESS: For more information on the Cayman Islands visit the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism website at www.caymanislands.ky.